Tag Archives: brain

The Roots Of Parkinson’s In The Brain Discovered

Researchers from King’s College London have uncovered the earliest signs of Parkinson’s disease in the brain, many years before patients show any symptomsParkinson’s disease could be spotted in the brain more than a decade before symptoms emerge, scientists have discovered, raising hopes that early treatment could prevent the condition ever taking hold.

Researchers from King’s College London studied the brains of people living in the northern Peloponnese of Greece who suffer from a rare genetic mutation that makes Parkinson’s almost inevitable. Most will develop the disease in their 40s but scientists found that by their 20s and 30s they had already lost of up to 34 per cent of the brain cells that process the hormone serotonin. The damage had occurred even before symptoms developed, offering an early warning sign of the approaching disease. The results, published in The Lancet Neurology, challenge the traditional view of the disease and could potentially lead to screening tools for identifying people at greatest risk.

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disorder, after Alzheimer’s disease. The disease is characterised by movement and cognitive problems but is known to become established in the brain a long time before patients are diagnosed. Studying the crucial early stages of the disease, when treatment could potentially slow its progress, is a huge challenge.

The new study, funded by the Lily Safra Foundation, provides the first evidence of a central role for the brain chemical serotonin in the very earliest stages of Parkinson’s. The results suggest changes to the serotonin system could act as a key early warning signal for the disease. Chief investigator Professor Marios Politis, Lily Safra Professor of Neurology & Neuroimaging at the Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology & Neuroscience (IoPPN), says: ‘Parkinson’s disease has traditionally been thought of as occurring due to damage in the dopamine system, but we show that changes to the serotonin system come first, occurring many years before patients begin to show symptoms. Our results suggest that early detection of changes in the serotonin system could open doors to the development of new therapies to slow, and ultimately prevent, progression of Parkinson’s disease.’

Source: https://www.kcl.ac.uk/

US Wants Patients To Try Experimental Drugs Against Cancer

Sally Atwater’s doctor spent two months on calls, messages and paperwork to get her an experimental drug he thinks can fight the lung cancer that has spread to her brain and spine. Nancy Goodman begged eight companies to let her young son try experimental medicines for a brain tumor that ultimately killed him, and “only three of the companies even gave me a reason why they declined,” she said. Thousands of gravely ill cancer patients each year seek “compassionate use” access to treatments that are not yet on the market but have shown some promise in early testing and aren’t available to them through a study.
Now the government wants to make this easier and give more heft to the requests. On Monday at a cancer conference in Chicago, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced a project to have the agency become the middleman. Instead of making doctors plead their case first to companies and then to the FDA if the company agrees to provide the drug, the FDA will become the initial step and will assign a staffer to quickly do the paperwork. That way, when a company gets a request, it knows the FDA already considers it appropriate.

We are here to help. We are not here to make a drug company give a specific drug to a patient. We don’t have that authority,” said Dr. Richard Pazdur, the FDA official leading the effort. But the agency gets little information now on how many requests are turned down and why.

Source: https://apnews.com/

The Brain In Your Gut

From moods to memory, the brain in our guts has a big impact on the brain in our heads. Pioneering neuroscientist Associate Professor Elisa Hill-Yardin from RMIT in Australia has spent years delving deep into the gut-brain connection, an emerging field in health research. Here she shares the five critical things we should know about our “gut brain”.

The gut has similar types of neurons to the brain. The gut brain is a big nervous system, about the same size as the spinal cord, which controls the contractions of the gut and its secretions. There are very rare gene mutations that affect brain connectivity and we’ve learned that the vast majority of those gene mutations are also found in the gut. If those mutations change the wiring in the brain, they’re also likely to change the wiring and the action of the gut brain – the enteric nervous system. To date, we’ve only ever examined the effect of those mutations in the brain. Now we’re starting to look at them in our second brain, the gut.

We now know that microbes in the gut do change our mood and behaviour, and microbes even change brain activity. There’s a great study that looked at women, doing MRI brain scans and showing that if they ate yoghurt for a certain number of days their resting brain activity was different – which is amazing! But we also know from animal studies that microbes have an impact on mental health. You can breed mice that are germ free and we know that those mice show differences in their anxiety behaviours – in other words, they’re less anxious without the microbes. So you could say we’re being controlled by the microbes in our gut. They’re much more important to our feelings than we ever thought.

What’s come out in research in recent years, though it’s been known for a long time in the autism community, is that the majority of children with autism have serious gut problems. Now we don’t know the cause of autism but we do know that there are hundreds and hundreds of rare gene mutations that alter brain connectivity. And we now know that some of those mutated genes are also found in the gut. We’re also learning that diseases that affect cognition and memory, like dementia, may also have a gut component. Researchers are starting to look at traditional brain diseases like Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Multiple Sclerosis, and finding difference in the microbes in the gut. So they’re starting to think about how we can make changes in our microbes to make changes to our brain health.

The Gut-Brain Axis team that I lead at RMIT is focused on understanding how the enteric nervous system is altered in neurological disorders such as autism. This includes researching how the gut nervous system interacts with microbes in the intestine and changes in inflammatory pathways. We’re trying to identify the basic mechanisms, examining the connections between the gastrointestinal tract and changes in mood and behaviour, including the impact of genetics on microbiota in the gut. The ultimate the aim is to find novel therapies that can improve daily life for people with autism, but our work also has broader application for other neurological disorders, such Parkinson’s disease.

Many of the great enteric physiologist pioneers are in Australia and they were the first to describe different types of neurons based on their activity and neurochemical content. This work has been done on animal models, due to the possibilities of emulating human genetic diseases in these models. So, a lot of basic anatomy and physiology has been studied. But what we need now is to move the field towards using the latest sophisticated techniques and capitalising on the recent interest in the gut-brain axis, which of course involves understanding how the gastrointestinal tract works in concert with the trillions of microbes that live inside it.

Professor Elisa Hill-Yardin has presented her work to the US Air Force Office of Scientific Research

Source: https://www.rmit.edu.au/

How To Create See-through Human Organs

Researchers in Germany have created transparent human organs using a new technology that could pave the way to print three-dimensional body parts such as kidneys for transplants. The organ is then scanned by lasers in a microscope that allows researchers to capture the entire structure, including the blood vessels and every single cell in its specific location. Using this blueprint, researchers print out the scaffold of the organ. They then load the 3D printer with stem cells which act as “ink” and are injected into the correct position making the organ functional.

The team led by Ali Erturk at Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich have developed a technique that uses a solvent to make organs such as the brain and kidneys transparent. While 3D printing is already used widely to produce spare parts for industry, Erturk said the development marks a step forward for 3D printing in the medical field. Until now 3D-printed organs lacked detailed cellular structures because they were based on images from computer tomography or MRI machines, he said.

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3D transparent mouse

We can see where every single cell is located in transparent human organs. And then we can actually replicate exactly the same, using 3D bioprinting technology to make a real functional organ,” he said. “Therefore, I believe we are much closer to a real human organ for the first time now.”

Erturk’s team plan to start by creating a bioprinted pancreas over the next 2-3 years and also hope to develop a kidney within 5-6 years. The researchers will first test to see whether animals can survive with the bioprinted organs and could start clinical trials within 5-10 years, he said.

Source: https://www.reuters.com/

Hypothalamic Stem Cells May Reverse The Human Ageing Process

A study published in the Nature Journal by Dongsheng Cai, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York, talks about how stem cells, that determines how fast aging occurs in the body, can help reverse the human ageing process. Stem cells reside in Hypothalamus, a pea-sized part of the brain that contains a bundle of neurons. It is responsible for a wide array of growth, development, digestion, reproduction, and metabolism related processes in the body. As the human body starts to age, these neural stem cells in the body begins to deteriorate and accelerates the human ageing process. So, if you stop these stem cells from wearing away, you can possibly stop the human body from ageing.

The lab tests were conducted on mice, where it was observed that as the mice grew 10 months or older, the stem cells begin to deplete (earlier than the usual time for stem cells to deteriorate in mice). By the time, these mice turn two years and older, the stem cells start to disappear, causing death. However, to prove their hypothesis that stem cells deterioration truly accelerates the ageing process, scientists ‘artificially disrupted’ the stem cells in middle-aged mice, and observed that it significantly grew their rate of ageing.

Once the hypothesis that stem cells depletion leads to accelerated ageing was proved, scientists further injected the hypothalamic stem cells into the brains of older and middle-aged mice, where a sudden decrease in their ageing process was observed. This happens because the hypothalamic stem cells release molecules called microRNAs (miRNAs) which play an important role in regulation of gene expression. These miRNAs (which are bundled inside tiny particles called exosomes) released by the stem cells were then further injected into the cerebrospinal fluid of mice.

After this experiment, the ageing process significantly slowed down, in terms of tissue analysis and behavioral analysis where different changes in animals’ muscle endurance, coordination, social behavior and cognitive ability also showed signs of anti-ageing. Scientists are now looking into exploring the study further and analyze other factors related to microRNAs that might be responsible for the anti-ageing miracle!

Source: https://www.nature.com/
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https://in.mashable.com/

AI Closer To The Efficiency Of The Brain

Computers and artificial intelligence continue to usher in major changes in the way people shop. It is relatively easy to train a robot’s brain to create a shopping list, but what about ensuring that the robotic shopper can easily tell the difference between the thousands of products in the store?

Purdue University researchers and experts in brain-inspired computing think part of the answer may be found in magnets. The researchers have developed a process to use magnetics with brain-like networks to program and teach devices such as personal robots, self-driving cars and drones to better generalize about different objects.

Our stochastic neural networks try to mimic certain activities of the human brain and compute through a connection of neurons and synapses,” said Kaushik Roy, Purdue’s Edward G. Tiedemann Jr. Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering. “This allows the computer brain to not only store information but also to generalize well about objects and then make inferences to perform better at distinguishing between objects.

The stochastic switching behavior is representative of a sigmoid switching behavior of a neuron. Such magnetic tunnel junctions can be also used to store synaptic weights. Roy presented the technology during the annual German Physical Sciences Conference earlier this month in Germany. The work also appeared in the Frontiers in Neuroscience.

The switching dynamics of a nano-magnet are similar to the electrical dynamics of neurons. Magnetic tunnel junction devices show switching behavior, which is stochastic in nature.  The Purdue group proposed a new stochastic training algorithm for synapses using spike timing dependent plasticity (STDP), termed Stochastic-STDP, which has been experimentally observed in the rat’s hippocampus. The inherent stochastic behavior of the magnet was used to switch the magnetization states stochastically based on the proposed algorithm for learning different object representations. “The big advantage with the magnet technology we have developed is that it is very energy-efficient,” said Roy, who leads Purdue’s Center for Brain-inspired Computing Enabling Autonomous Intelligence. “We have created a simpler network that represents the neurons and synapses while compressing the amount of memory and energy needed to perform functions similar to brain computations.

Source: https://www.purdue.edu/

Memory In Older Adults Restored To Young Adult Level

Stimulating a precise location of the brain’s memory center with electromagnetic pulses improved the memory of older adults with age-related memory loss to the level of young adults, reports a new Northwestern Medicine study. The study, published in the journal Neurology, used Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS) to target the hippocampus — the brain region that atrophies as people grow older, which is responsible for memory decline.

Older people’s memory got better up to the level that we could no longer tell them apart from younger people,” said lead investigator Joel Voss, PhD, associate professor in the Ken and Ruth Davee Department of Neurology. “They got substantially better.” “It’s the part of the brain that links two unrelated things together into a memory, like the place you left your keys or your new neighbor’s name,” said Voss, also an associate professor of Medical Social Sciences and of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. “Older adults often complain about having trouble with this.” This type of memory worsens as we age. Nearly all people experience a decline in their memory ability as they age.

The new study of 16 people — ages 64 to 80 with normal age-related memory problems — shows it’s possible to alter memory ability in older adults using this type of brain stimulation, Voss said. “There is no previous evidence that the specific memory impairments and brain dysfunction seen in older adults can be rescued using brain stimulation or any other method.

Voss’ team located the hippocampus — which is smaller in older adults — individually for each participant with an fMRI. An fMRI (functional MRI) measures how active a part of the brain is at a given time Then, they located an area of the parietal lobe that communicates with the hippocampus for stimulation delivery. This spot was behind and slightly above a person’s left ear, but everyone had a slightly different spot. It isn’t possible to directly stimulate the hippocampus with TMS, which is noninvasive, because it’s too deep in the brain for the magnetic fields to penetrate. So, Voss and colleagues identified a superficial brain region close to the surface of the skull with high connectivity to the hippocampus.

We stimulated where brain activity is synchronized to the hippocampus, suggesting that these regions talk to each other,” said first author Aneesha Nilakantan, a neuroscience graduate student working in Voss’ lab. At baseline, younger and older adults were given memory tasks in which they learned arbitrary relations between paired things, such as this object goes on this spot on the computer screen. Younger adults score about 55 percent correct and older adults less than 40 percent correct. The research team then applied high-frequency repetitive magnetic stimulation to the spot for five consecutive days for 20 minutes a d

Then, 24 hours after the final stimulation, the subjects were given a new memory test in which they had to learn new arbitrary relations between paired things. After the brain stimulation, older adults scored at the level of young adults on the memory tasks.

Source: https://news.feinberg.northwestern.edu/

Premature Aging, Obesity, Brain Disorders: 3 FrontRunners In The CRISP-R Therapy Race

CRISPR is the ultimate child star in the biomedical universe. Just six years old, the gene editing prodigy is now the subject of multiple clinical trials that aim to push the lab tech into the real world. In 2017, a 44-year-old man received the first-ever dose of gene therapy—in the form of zinc-finger nucleases—that targeted a deficient gene in his liver. This type of gene therapy, called “in vivo” in scientist-speak, is markedly different than the most common type these days.

So far, the only gene therapies on the market are CAR-Ts: a procedure targeting blood cancer that extracts a person’s immune cells, genetically edits them within the lab to boost their cancer-killing power, and then infuses them back into the body.

In vivo gene therapy is far more intimate: rather than extracting a person’s cells, a gene editing mix is directly injected into a person, with the hope of performing molecular surgery with a single shot. CRISPR is now making that possibility very real. With dozens of efforts in the making, from premature aging to obesity and developmental brain disorders, here are the frontrunners beyond CRISPR-based cancer therapy to watch out for.

Source: https://singularityhub.com/

Potential Revolutionnary Treatment For Alzheimer’s

Leaky capillaries in the brain portend early onset of Alzheimer’s disease as they signal cognitive impairment before hallmark toxic proteins appear, new USC research shows. The findings, which appear in Nature Medicine, could help with earlier diagnosis and suggest new targets for drugs that could slow or prevent the onset of the disease.

The number of Americans with Alzheimer’s is expected to more than double to about 14 million in 40 years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Five Alzheimer’s drugs are approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to temporarily help with memory and thinking problems, but none treats the underlying cause of the disease or slow its progression. Researchers believe that successful treatment will eventually involve a combination of drugs aimed at multiple targets.

USC’s five-year study, which involved 161 older adults, showed that people with the worst memory problems also had the most leakage in their brain’s blood vessels — regardless of whether abnormal proteins amyloid and tau were present.

This image depicts a blood vessel in the brain that has become leaky, or permeable.

The fact that we’re seeing the blood vessels leaking, independent of tau and independent of amyloid, when people have cognitive impairment on a mild level, suggests it could be a totally separate process or a very early process,” said senior author Berislav Zlokovic, director of the Zilkha Neurogenetic Institute at the Keck School of Medicine of USC. “That was surprising that this blood-brain barrier breakdown is occurring independently.”

In healthy brains, the cells that make up blood vessels fit together so tightly they form a barrier that keeps stray cells, pathogens, metals and other unhealthy substances from reaching brain tissue. Scientists call this the blood-brain barrier. In some aging brains, the seams between cells loosen, and the blood vessels become permeable.

If the blood-brain barrier is not working properly, then there is the potential for damage,” said co-author Arthur Toga, director of the USC Mark and Mary Stevens Neuroimaging and Informatics Institute at the Keck School of Medicine. “It suggests the vessels aren’t properly providing the nutrients and blood flow that the neurons need. And you have the possibility of toxic proteins getting in.

Participants in the study had their memory and thinking ability assessed through a series of tasks and tests, resulting in measures of cognitive function and a “clinical dementia rating score.” Individuals diagnosed with disorders that might account for cognitive impairment were excluded. The researchers used neuroimaging and cerebral spinal fluid analysis to measure the permeability, or leakiness, of capillaries serving the brain’s hippocampus, and found a strong correlation between impairment and leakage.

“The results were really kind of eye-opening,” said first author Daniel Nation, an assistant professor of psychology at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. “It didn’t matter whether people had amyloid or tau pathology; they still had cognitive impairment.”

Source: https://news.usc.edu/

The more words the children had heard by age 3, the better they did on tests of cognitive development

Talking is important for building your baby’s brain. In the first 3 years of life, your baby’s brain triples in size. It also becomes much more complex—and this doesn’t just happen without outside help.  The brain develops as your baby interacts with the world—seeing what will happen if the baby fusses, giggles, blows bubbles, snuggles up to mom, dad, or grandparents, says “mama” or “dada”—or throws  the cereal on the floor.

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Many of your baby’s most important experiments are about communicating with parents and other caregivers. Research has shown that lots of talking with children in the first 3 years of life builds the brain architecture that will be needed later to support reading and thinking skills.Some families are talkative.  The parents, grandparents, and other caregivers talk with babies a lot, even before the baby can understand or answer—imitating facial expressions and sounds, giving a “play-by-play” when changing a diaper, telling stories, asking the baby questions, singing, talking about pictures in books, and telling the baby how wonderful the he or she is. Other families don’t talk much with their babies. The parents may not understand how important it is to talk with very young children, or they may not have grown up with that experience, or they may have other things on their minds.  Imagine—research has shown that children from talkative families may have heard 30 million more words directed to them by age 3 than children from less-talkative families!  And the same research study showed that the more words the children had heard by age 3, the better they did on tests of cognitive development.Those same children from talkative families also did better on reading readiness tests in the third grade.  Why?  One reason may be that their brains got more stimulation during that important period of brain growth. Learning to read greatly depends on having and hearing a big vocabulary; lots of talking by parents and other adults, especially when combined with reading, is wonderful for building vocabulary. Of course, it’s not only your baby’s brain that we care about!  Lots of talk from loving adults also builds healthy relationships and social skills.  It’s the relationship that matters—your baby can’t learn language, or much else, from a television set.  You are your baby’s first and best teacher in matters of building trust, dealing with emotional and physical needs, and interacting with others in positive ways. All of these skills will be important for your child’s later success in school and beyond.That’s why many organizations serving young families have come together to bring this message to our community: talk with your baby, a lot, during the brain’s most formative first three years, and set your child on a path to lifelong learning

Source: https://talkwithyourbaby.org/