DiversityNursing Blog

Softball Player's Brain Aneurysm Draws Attention to Rare Condition

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, May 27, 2015 @ 02:23 PM

By GILLIAN MOHNEY

http://abcnews.go.com 

kabc dana housley brain aneurysm jc 150526 16x9 992 resized 600A 15-year-old California softball player is reportedly fighting for her life days after a brain aneurysm led her to collapse on the field.

Dana Housley told her coach she “felt dizzy” before collapsing on the field, according to ABC's Los Angeles station KABC.

She was taken to Kaiser Permanente in Fontana, California, where she is on life support, according to KABC. Hospital officials did not comment further on the case, citing privacy laws.

As Housley’s teammates rally with messages of support with the hashtag #PrayforDana, experts said that the teen’s case can help put the spotlight on this mysterious condition that affects an estimated 6 million Americans.

Experts are quick to point out that Housley’s activity on the softball team likely had no bearing on her developing a brain aneurysm or having it rupture.

“The biggest mystery is why they form,” Christine Buckley, the executive director of the Brain Aneurysm Foundation told ABC News.

Just two days after Housley’s hospitalization, a teen baseball player reportedly died after being hit by a baseball. In that case, the cause of death was not yet released, though his grandfather told a local newspaper that one cause may have been an underlying condition, including possibly an aneurysm.

Teens rarely develop aneurysms, but those that do often do not understand their symptoms including headache, eye pain and sometimes earache, Buckley said.

“Early detection is the key,” she said, noting that people should seek treatment at a hospital if they experience signs and symptoms.

An aneurysm develops when a weak spot develops on the wall of a brain artery, leading to a bulge. Should the weak spot rupture, the blood loss can lead devastating results, including strokebrain injury or death.

Aneurysms can run in families and ruptured aneurysms are more associated with smoking, but no specific activity is associated with developing an aneurysm or having it rupture, Buckley said.

Dr. Nicholas Bambakidis, director of Cerebrovascular and Skull Base Surgery at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, said brain aneurysms in teenagers and children are rare but they do occur.

“It’s a severe tremendous headache, almost always accompanied by loss of consciousness,” Bambakidis said of brain aneurysm symptoms. "Worst headache of my life. It’s not like a tension headache or a headache after a bad day."

Bambakidis said even an outside trauma like a baseball hitting the head may not lead to rupture and that they are mostly likely to be rupture due to severe trauma that actually pierces the brain.

The biggest predictor of survival is how a patient is doing when they arrive to get treatment, he said.

“How bad was the bleeding and how much damage was done to the brain when it’s bleeding?” Bambakidis said of figuring out the likelihood of a patient surviving.

Brain aneurysms are most prevalent for people between the ages of 35 to 60, according to the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. The condition can be deadly if ruptured and approximately 15 percent of patients with a specific type of aneurysm called an aneurysmal subarachnoid hemorrhage, die before reaching the hospital.

Approximately 30,000 Americans will have a brain aneurysm rupture annually and about 40 percent of these cases are fatal.

Topics: health, brain, hospital, treatment, headache, life support, aneurysm, brain artery

Preterm Birth Alters Brain Connections Linked To Cognitive Functioning, Study finds

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Tue, May 05, 2015 @ 12:00 PM

Written by Honor Whiteman

www.medicalnewstoday.com 

preterm baby resized 600Infants born preterm are known to be at greater risk for neurodevelopmental disorders. Now, a new study by researchers from King's College London in the UK brings us closer to understanding why - premature birth reduces connectivity in brain regions linked to cognitive functioning.

First author Dr. Hilary Toulmin, of the Centre for the Developing Brain at King's College, and colleagues publish their findings in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Preterm birth - defined as the birth of an infant before 37 weeks gestation - affected more than 450,000 babies in the US in 2012.

It is a leading cause of neurological disability among children in the US. Babies born preterm are at higher risk of cerebral palsy, autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), among other intellectual and developmental conditions.

For their study, Dr. Toulmin and colleagues set out to gain a better understanding of the brain connectivity among babies born preterm in an attempt to uncover clues as to why preterm babies are more likely to develop neurodevelopmental problems.

The researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to analyze the connectivity between two specific brain regions - the thalamus and the cortex - among 66 infants. Of these, 47 were born prior to 33 weeks gestation and 19 were born at full term - between 37 and 42 weeks gestation.

The team says they focused on the connectivity between the thalamus and the cortex because these are the brain connections that develop quickly during preterm infants' care in neonatal units.

Preemies showed reduced connectivity in brain area linked to higher cognitive functioning

Among the babies born at full term, the researchers found the connectivity between the thalamus and the cortex was very similar to that of adults, which the researchers say supports previous findings that infants are born with mature brain connections.

Among the preterm infants, however, the team identified reduced connectivity between areas of the thalamus and areas of the cortex associated with higher cognitive function. This may explain why preterm babies are at greater risk of neurodevelopmental problems later in childhood, say the researchers.

What is more, brain scans of the preterm infants revealed increased connectivity between the thalamus and an area of the primary sensory cortex that plays a role in processing signals from the face, lips, jaw, tongue and throat.

Preterm infants' earlier exposure to breastfeeding and bottle feeding may explain this finding, according to the team.

The team says the earlier a preterm baby was born, the more pronounced the differences were in brain connectivity.

Overall, the team believes their findings bring us a step closer to understanding why infants born preterm are at higher risk of neurodevelopmental problems.

Senior author Prof. David Edwards, also of the Centre for the Developing Brain at King's College, says modern science has allowed the team to assess brain connectivity among preterm infants - something he says would have been "inconceivable" only a few years ago.

"We are now able to observe brain development in babies as they grow, and this is likely to produce remarkable benefits for medicine," he adds.

Dr. Toulmin says the next steps from this research will be to gain a better understanding of how their findings are associated with learning and developmental problems among preterm children as they get older.

Topics: birth, newborn, health, healthcare, brain, nurses, doctors, medical, hospital, treatment, NICU, health studies, preterm birth, cognitive functioning

Researchers Identify Brain Signaling Linked To 'Cooties' And 'Crush' Phenomenons In Children

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Apr 13, 2015 @ 11:06 AM

Written by Honor Whiteman

www.medicalnewstoday.com

amygdala activity resized 600Researchers have identified a signal in the amygdala brain region of young children that stimulates aversion to the opposite sex and induces interest in the opposite sex as children enter puberty.

Published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, the study challenges previous beliefs about the role of the amygdala, according to the researchers.

Lead investigator Eva Telzer, of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, says the amygdala was once believed to be a threat detector. "But increasing evidence indicates that it is activated whenever someone detects something meaningful in the environment," she notes. "It is a significance detector."

To reach their findings, Telzer and her team enrolled 93 youths aged 7-17 years to the study and assessed their attitudes toward children of the same sex and of the opposite sex. 

In addition, the researchers used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the brain activity of 52 youths aged 4-18 as they viewed same- and opposite-sex faces.

Amygdala activity wanes between the ages of 10 and 12

The team found that young children aged 4-7 years had more negative attitudes toward the opposite sex - a finding they say supports the "cooties" phenomenon, in which young children steer clear of the opposite sex with the belief that they may "contaminate" them if they get too close.

"Only the youngest children in our sample demonstrated a behavioral sex bias such that they rated same-sex peers as having more positive (and less negative) attributes than opposite-sex peers," say the researchers.

Interestingly, children of this age showed increased brain activity in the amygdala region of the brain as they viewed faces of the opposite sex. "And so we think the amygdala is signaling the significance of cooties at this developmental period," says Telzer.

The researchers found that among children between ages of 10 and 12, there was no difference in the amygdala's response to same- and opposite-sex faces.

However, they saw a significant increase in amygdala response to the opposite sex from 12 years onwards - just as children begin to enter puberty. The researchers say this may correspond with the "crush" phenomenon, in which pubescent youths become captivated with the opposite sex.

"When puberty hits, gender becomes more significant again, whether it's because your body is changing, or because of sexual attraction or you are becoming aware of more rigid sexual boundaries as you become more sexually mature," says Telzer. "The brain is responding very appropriately, in terms of what's changing developmentally."

In May 2014, Medical News Today reported on a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, in which researchers found changes in cerebral blood flow levels differ between girls and boys during puberty, with such levels rising in girls and reducing in boys.

The researchers of that study - led by Dr. Theodore Satterthwaite of Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania - say the findings were linked to higher risk of anxiety in females and increased risk of schizophrenia in males.

"These findings help us understand normal neurodevelopment and could be a step toward creating normal 'growth charts' for brain development in kids," says Dr. Satterthwaite. "These results also show what every parent knows: boys and girls grow differently. This applies to the brain as well."

Topics: studies, health, brain, children, medical, amygdala, opposite sex, puberty, brain activity

New Treatment For Dementia Discovered: Deep Brain Stimulation

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Apr 06, 2015 @ 02:04 PM

www.sciencedaily.com

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Pushing new frontiers in dementia research, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore (NTU Singapore) scientists have found a new way to treat dementia by sending electrical impulses to specific areas of the brain to enhance the growth of new brain cells.

Known as deep brain stimulation, it is a therapeutic procedure that is already used in some parts of the world to treat various neurological conditions such as tremors or Dystonia, which is characterised by involuntary muscle contractions and spasms.

NTU scientists have discovered that deep brain stimulation could also be used to enhance the growth of brain cells which mitigates the harmful effects of dementia-related conditions and improves short and long-term memory.

Their research has shown that new brain cells, or neurons, can be formed by stimulating the front part of the brain which is involved in memory retention using minute amounts of electricity.

The increase in brain cells reduces anxiety and depression, and promotes improved learning, and boosts overall memory formation and retention.

The research findings open new opportunities for developing novel treatment solutions for patients suffering from memory loss due to dementia-related conditions such as Alzheimer's and even Parkinson's disease.

This discovery was published in eLife, a peer-reviewed open-access scientific journal published by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, the Max Planck Society and the Wellcome Trust.

Assistant Professor Ajai Vyas from NTU's School of Biological Sciences said, "The findings from the research clearly show the potential of enhancing the growth of brain cells using deep brain stimulation.

"Around 60 per cent of patients do not respond to regular anti-depressant treatments and our research opens new doors for more effective treatment options."

Dr Lim Lee Wei, an associate professor at Sunway University, Malaysia, who worked on the research project while he was a Lee Kuan Yew Research Fellow at NTU, said that deep brain stimulation brings multiple benefits.

"No negative effects have been reported in such prefrontal cortex stimulation in humans and studies have shown that stimulation also produces anti-depression effects and reduces anxiety.

"Memory loss in older people is not only a serious and widespread problem, but signifies a key symptom of dementia. At least one in 10 people aged 60 and above in Singapore suffer from dementia and this breakthrough could pave the way towards improved treatments for patients."

Growing new brain cells

For decades, scientists have been finding ways to generate brain cells to boost memory and learning, but more importantly, to also treat brain trauma and injury, and age-related diseases such as dementia.

As part of a natural cycle, brain cells constantly die and get replaced by new ones. The area of the brain responsible for generating new brain cells is known as the hippocampus, which is also involved in memory forming, organising and retention.

By stimulating the front part of the brain known as the prefrontal cortex, new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus although it had not been directly stimulated.

The research was conducted using middle-aged rats, where electrodes which sends out minute micro-electrical impulses were implanted in the brains. The rats underwent a few memory tests before and after stimulation, and displayed positive results in memory retention, even after 24 hours.

"Extensive studies have shown that rats' brains and memory systems are very similar to humans," said Prof Ajai who is a recipient of NTU's prestigious Nanyang Assistant Professorship award.

"The electrodes are harmless to the rats, as they go on to live normally and fulfil their regular (adult) lifespan of around 22 months."

The research was funded by the Lee Kuan Yew Research Fellowship which supports and promotes young and outstanding researchers in their respective areas of specialisation.

Topics: science, health, brain, memory, dementia, medical, treatment, deep brain stimulation, brain cells, electricity

This 19-Year-Old College Student Built an Artificial Brain That Detects Breast Cancer

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Dec 10, 2014 @ 01:35 PM

By Elizabeth Kiefer

2014 11 19 brittanywenger thumb resized 600

Brittany Wenger is one seriously smart cookie. In 2012, the then-17-year-old submitted her "artificial brain" technology -- which assesses tissue samples for breast cancer -- to the Google Science Fair and walked away with the grand prize. It was no wonder: Her invention, which uses a type of computer program called neural networks, can identify complex data patterns and make breast cancer detection calls with 99 percent accuracy. But she's not stopping there: Brittany hopes to help wipe out cancer completely.

Since she took home the gold two years ago, she's been named one of Time's 30 Under 30, given a truly inspiring TED Talk, and launched her app, Cloud4Cancer, which allows doctors to enter their own data and fuel continued cancer research. And did we mention she's also holding down a full course load at Duke University? Um, yeah. 

We recently chatted with Brittany about how she got started, her challenges along the way, and how she balances being a college student with breaking the barriers of cancer diagnostics.

How did you get into computer programming?

When I was in 7th grade I took an elective class on futuristic thinking. When we were assigned our final paper, I decided to write mine on technology of the future. The moment I started researching artificial intelligence and its transcendence into human knowledge, I was inspired. I went out and bought a coding textbook, and taught myself how to code. I remember one of the first projects that I ever worked on was an artificial neural network that taught people how to play soccer.

You're a self-taught coder who went on to create a potentially game-changing cancer detection tool. How did that happen?

Well, it definitely didn't happen overnight. I spent over five years working with neural networks, starting with an entire year of research to try and recognize patterns and connect breast cancer to artificial intelligence. I faced a lot of roadblocks along the way, as this was a very complicated program with no predefined solution. I went through thousands of pages of coding and data that was available through public domains, and performed over 7.6 million test trials. I two failed projects before finally succeeding on my third attempt, taking what didn't work the first few times to optimize the code that helped build the Cloud4Cancer app.

Why did you decide on developing breast cancer detection technology?

When I was 15, my cousin was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have a very close-knit family, so seeing the impact that the disease can have on a woman and her family, firsthand, was so real to me. When I learned that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime, I knew that I wanted to get involved in making the process better for patients. Now, the coding that I first used to help detect breast cancer has been extended into diagnosing other types of cancers, including blood-based diseases like leukemia.

What's been the most rewarding part of the process?

The people. I've already had the opportunity to work with real patients and breast cancer survivors, as well as talk with kids who are interested in doing research or coding in the future. Knowing that my cloud application has the potential to save lives and expedite the process of discovery is so rewarding. I still get chills thinking about how, a couple of years down the line, my research can actually contribute to finding the cure for cancer.

You've got a lot on your plate these days, between Cloud4Cancer and school. How do you balance everything?

The great thing about where I am with school right now is that my schedule is entirely what I make it. I can attend classes during the week and then travel over some weekends. School is not something that I will ever bend on, as I'm actually going for my MD, PhD in pediatric oncology. At the same time, my initiative is so important to me, I don't want either one to ever outweigh the other. Luckily, I think they complement each other well and what I'm learning in my classes helps me improve Cloud4Cancer.

What's one thing you want other young women to know if they're thinking about going the tech route?

If you're interested, go for it! There have never been so many available resources or opportunities -- for women, and for society as a whole -- to pursue a career in the field. I love how technology allows you to make new things by putting together the little pieces and working towards something bigger that can really benefit the world. There's no greater feeling than solving a problem and seeing your code come to life.

Source: www.huffingtonpost.com

Topics: innovation, artificial intelligence, college student, technology, brain, medical, cancer, detection, breast cancer, app

Brain Abnormality Spotted in Many SIDS Babies

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Wed, Nov 26, 2014 @ 11:52 AM

By Steven Reinberg

featured babies resized 600

A brain abnormality may be responsible for more than 40 percent of deaths from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a new study suggests.

The abnormality is in the hippocampus, a part of the brain that influences breathing, heart rate and body temperature. This abnormality may disrupt the brain's control of breathing and heart rate during sleep or during brief waking that happens during the night, the researchers report.

"This abnormality could put infants at risk for SIDS," said lead researcher Dr. Hannah Kinney, a professor of pathology at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Kinney can't say for sure that this abnormality is a cause of SIDS. "We don't know at this stage. This is the first observation of this abnormality," she said. "It's just an observation at this point."

Before this brain abnormality can be called a cause of SIDS, Kinney said, they have to find out what causes this abnormality and determine if it alone can cause SIDS.

For the study, Kinney's team examined sections of the hippocampus from 153 infants who died suddenly and unexpectedly between 1991 and 2012. The deaths were classified as unexplained -- which includes SIDS -- or from a known cause, such as infection, accident, murder or lack of oxygen.

Kinney's group found that 41.2 percent of infants who died for an unexplained reason compared with 7.7 percent of those whose death was explainable had an abnormality in the part of the hippocampus known as the dentate gyrus. 

Among the 86 infants whose death was classified as SIDS, 43 percent had this abnormality, the researchers added.

This change in the dentate gyrus suggests there was a problem in development at some point late in the life of the fetus or in the months after birth, Kinney said.

Kinney added that this abnormality has only been seen under the microscope after death, so a child cannot be tested for the abnormality.

"There are no signs or symptoms that predict SIDS or warn families that this problem is there or that SIDS is going to occur," she said.

The report was published online Nov. 24 in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

"Until we understand more about this abnormality, parents should follow the safe sleep recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics," Kinney said.

The recommendation is to place an infant alone in a crib on the back without toys or pillows as bolsters. "The same messages we have always had are still applicable," she said.

SIDS is the leading cause of death of infants younger than 1 year of age in the United States, the researchers said.

Dr. Sayed Naqvi, a pediatric neurologist at Miami Children's Hospital, noted that this brain abnormality has been found in epilepsy, but this is the first time it has been linked to SIDS.

"This needs to be confirmed and more research done to say this is a cause of SIDS," he said. 

Marian Willinger, a special assistant for SIDS at U.S. National Institute of Health's Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, said in a statement, "The new finding adds to a growing body of evidence that brain abnormalities may underlie many cases of SIDS." 

"The hope is that research efforts in this area eventually will provide the means to identify vulnerable infants so that we'll be able to reduce their risk for SIDS," she added.

Source: www.medicinenet.com

Topics: infants, SIDS, health, healthcare, brain, research, health care, medical, babies

'Easy-to-walk Communities' Linked To Better Cognition In Older Adults

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Nov 10, 2014 @ 01:42 PM

By Marie Ellis

seniors walking resized 600

It is well known that exercise is good for the mind and body, but to what extent does the neighborhood or community in which we live affect our physical and mental health? New research from the University of Kansas suggests the walkability of a community has a great impact on cognition in older adults.

Previous studies have detailed the importance physical exercise has for executive function in older adults.

But how can the layout of a neighborhood encourage its residents to get out and walk? This is precisely what Amber Watts, assistant professor of clinical psychology at the University of Kansas, wanted to find out.

"Depending on which type of walking [leisure vs. walking to get somewhere] you're interested in, a neighborhood might have different characteristics," she says. "Features of a neighborhood that encourage walking for transportation require having someplace worth walking to, like neighbors' houses, stores and parks."

She adds that neighborhoods that encourage leisure walking have "pleasant things to look at," including walking trails and trees, and they should feel safe.

Her research, which she presented yesterday at the Gerontological Society of America's annual meeting in Washington, DC, suggests that neighborhoods that encourage walking can protect against cognitive decline in older adults.

To conduct her research, Watts used geographic information systems (GIS) to judge walkability. This involved maps that measure and analyze spatial data.

Better physical and mental health

Detailing how she collected her data, Watts explains:

"GIS data can tell us about roads, sidewalks, elevation, terrain, distances between locations and a variety of other pieces of information. We then use a process called space syntax to measure these features, including the number of intersections, distances between places or connections between a person's home and other possible destinations they might walk to."

She also looked at how complicated a route is from one location to another: "For example, is it a straight line from point A to point B, or does it require a lot of turns to get there?"

To conduct the study, Watts and colleagues tracked 25 people with mild Alzheimer's disease and 39 older adults without any cognitive impairment. Using the space syntax data, they created a "walkability score" for the participants' home addresses.

Then, they estimated the relationship between a person's neighborhood scores and how well they performed on cognitive tests over 2 years. The cognitive tests included three categories: attention, verbal memory and mental status. The team also factored in issues that might influence cognitive scores, including age, gender, education and wealth.

Results from the study suggest that communities that are easier to walk in are linked to better physical health outcomes - such as lower body mass and blood pressure - and cognition - including better memory.

Watts and her colleagues believe their findings could benefit older adults, health care professionals, caregivers and even architects and urban planners.

Do mentally complex neighborhoods act like a brain-training game?

Though elaborate community layouts may be expected to confuse older residents, Watts and her team found that they actually serve to keep cognition sharp.

"There seems to be a component of a person's mental representation of the spatial environment, for example, the ability to picture the streets like a mental map," Watts says.

She adds that complicated environments may demand more intricate mental processes in order to navigate them, which could keep the mind sharp. This is in line with previous studies, which have demonstrated how staying mentally active helps to preserve memory.

"Our findings suggest that people with neighborhoods that require more mental complexity actually experience less decline in their mental functioning over time," Watts adds.

She explains that a challenging environment keeps an individual's body and mind healthy:


"With regard to the complexity of neighborhood street layouts - for example, the number of turns required getting from point A to point B - our results demonstrate that more complex neighborhoods are associated with preserved cognitive performance over time.


We think this may be because mental challenges are good for us. They keep us active and working at that optimal level instead of choosing the path of least resistance."

A National Institute on Aging grant, KU Strategic Initiative Grant and Frontiers Clinical Translational Science award helped fund the study.

Source: www.medicalnewstoday.com

Topics: health, brain, health care, medicine, community, elderly, lifestyle, seniors, walking, neighborhoods, cognition, residents

Sweet! A Special Cocoa Drink May Reverse Memory Loss

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Oct 27, 2014 @ 02:42 PM

By Maggie Fox

cocoa

A special type of concentrated cocoa drink seems to turn back the clock on memory, changing the brain and helping middle-aged people ace memory tests, researchers reported on Sunday.

Plant compounds called flavanols seem to be what does the trick, the team at Columbia University Medical Center report in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

"If a participant had the memory of a typical 60-year-old at the beginning of the study, after three months that person on average had the memory of a typical 30- or 40-year-old," said Dr. Scott Small, who led the study.

It wasn’t hot cocoa that they drank, he cautions, but a proprietary drink made by Mars, Inc., which has also demonstrated that its flavanol-rich compounds can improve heart health. 

It is not yet available on the market.

Small’s team tested 37 healthy volunteers aged 50 to 69, who either drank a high-flavanol diet (900 mg of flavanols a day) or a low-flavanol diet (10 mg of flavanols a day) for three months. Everyone got functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans and also memory tests at the beginning and after the three months.

"When we imaged our research subjects' brains, we found noticeable improvements in the function of the dentate gyrus in those who consumed the high-cocoa-flavanol drink," said Adam Brickman, an associate professor of neuropsychology who worked on the study.

“High cocoa flavanols cause an improvement in the area of the brain that’s affected by aging,” Small said.

“This very small trial highlights some possible effects of flavanols found in cocoa beans over a short time period, but we’d need to see much longer, large-scale studies to fully understand whether a diet high in these flavanols could boost cognition in old age,” said Dr. Simon Ridley, Head of Research at Alzheimer’s Research UK.

“We also don’t know how meaningful the improvements measured in the tests used here would be for people in their daily lives. This study didn’t look at dementia, and we can’t know from this research whether a diet high in cocoa would have any effect in either preventing or delaying the onset of the condition.”

And Small cautioned against using the findings to justify loading up on chocolate.

“It is true that cocoa flavanols are found in chocolate; however, only in small amounts,” he said. “Consuming a lot of chocolate is simply bad for your health.”

Source: www.today.com

Topics: brain, memory, cocoa, memory loss, chocolate

Nobel Prize in Medicine is Awarded for Discovery of Brain’s ‘Inner GPS’

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Oct 06, 2014 @ 11:14 AM

By 

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A British-American scientist and a pair of Norwegian researchers were awarded this year’s Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine on Monday for discovering “an inner GPS, in the brain,” that makes navigation possible for virtually all creatures.

John O’Keefe, 75, a British-American scientist, will share half of the prize of 8 million kronor, or $1.1 million, in what is considered the most prestigious scientific award. May-Britt Moser, 51, and Edvard I. Moser, 52, who are married, will share the other half, said the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, which chooses the laureates.

The three scientists’ discoveries “have solved a problem that has occupied philosophers and scientists for centuries — how does the brain create a map of the space surrounding us and how can we navigate our way through a complex environment,” the institute said in a news release.

The positioning system in the brain that they discovered helps us know where we are, find our way from place to place and store the information for the next time, said Goran K. Hansson, secretary of the Karolinska’s Nobel Committee, in announcing the laureates.

The researchers documented that certain cells are responsible for higher cognitive function that steers the navigational system, the committee said.

Dr. O’Keefe began using neurophysiological methods in the late 1960s to study how the brain controls behavior. In 1971 he discovered the first component of the inner navigational system in rats. He identified nerve cells in the hippocampus region of the brain that were always activated when a rat was at a certain location. He called them “place cells” and showed that the cells registered not only what they saw, but also what they did not see, by building up inner maps in different environments.

Dr. O’Keefe was born in New York City and graduated from the City College of New York. He earned a Ph.D. in physiological psychology at McGill University in Montreal, in 1967, and moved for postdoctoral training to University College London, where he remains. He is a professor of cognitive neuroscience.

In 2005, the Mosers discovered a second crucial component of the brain’s positioning system by identifying another type of nerve cell that permits coordination and positioning. The scientists, who work at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology in Trondheim, called the cells grid cells. While mapping connections to the hippocampus in rats moving about a room in a laboratory, “they discovered an astonishing pattern of activity in a nearby part of the brain called the entorhinal cortex,” the Nobel committee said.

When the rat passed multiple locations, the cells formed a hexagonal grid. Each cell activated in unique spatial patterns. Their research showed “how both ‘place’ and ‘grid’ cells make it possible to determine position and to navigate,” the committee said.

The Mosers grew up in rural Norway and came from nonacademic families. May-Britt was born in Fosnavag and Edvard in Alesund. Although they went to the same high school, they did not know each other well until they were undergraduates at the University of Oslo. They married while they were college students and have two daughters. Both are professors at the university in Trondheim.

At one point they were visiting scientists at University College London, studying under Dr. O’Keefe.

The three also won Columbia University’s Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize last year for their discoveries.

Only a handful of married couples have shared a Nobel Prize, and the Mosers are only the second in the medicine category, which has been awarded since 1901. Fewer than a dozen women have been named laureates in medicine.

Evidence that place and grid cells exist in humans comes from recent studies using brain imaging techniques and from patients who have undergone neurosurgery.

The laureates’ findings may eventually lead to a better understanding of the spatial losses that occur in Alzheimer’s and other neurological diseases. The hippocampus and entorhinal cortex are often damaged in early stages of Alzheimer’s, with affected individuals’ losing their way and failing to recognize the environment. The findings also open new avenues for understanding cognitive processes like memory, thinking and planning, the Nobel Committee said.

According to The Associated Press, May-Britt Moser said the couple was elated. “This is such a great honor for all of us and all the people who have worked with us and supported us,” she said in a telephone interview with The A.P. “We are going to continue and hopefully do even more groundbreaking work in the future.”

Her husband was flying when the prize was announced, she said, and he later told the Norwegian news agency NTB that he learned about it when he landed and turned on his cellphone, to a barrage of messages and calls. “I didn’t know anything. When I got off the plane there was a representative there with a bouquet of flowers who said ‘congratulations on the prize,’   ” The Associated Press reported.

The laureates traditionally receive their awards at a banquet in Stockholm on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death in 1896 of the prize’s creator, Alfred Nobel, an industrialist and inventor of dynamite.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com

Topics: study, science, Nobel Prize, physiology, health, healthcare, brain, medicine

Chronic Stress Can Hurt Your Memory

Posted by Erica Bettencourt

Mon, Jul 21, 2014 @ 12:55 PM

By Serusha Govender and Sara Cheshire

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(CNN) -- Do you tend to forget things when you're stressed? Like when you're late for a meeting and can't remember where you left your car keys? Or when you have to give a big presentation and suddenly forget all your talking points seconds before you start?

There's nothing like stress to make your memory go a little spotty. A 2010 study found that chronic stress reduces spatial memory: the memory that helps you recall locations and relate objects.

Hence, your missing car keys.

University of Iowa researchers recently found a connection between the stress hormone cortisol and short-term memory loss in older rats. Their findings, published in the Journal of Neuroscience this week, showed that cortisol reduced synapses -- connections between neurons -- in the animals' pre-frontal cortex, the area of the brain that houses short-term memory.

But there's a difference between how your brain processes long-term job stress, for example, and the stress of getting into a car accident. Research suggests low levels of anxiety can affect your ability to recall memories; acute or high-anxiety situations, on the other hand, can actually reinforce the learning process.

Acute stress increases your brain's ability to encode and recall traumatic events, according to studies. These memories get stored in the part of the brain responsible for survival, and serve as a warning and defense mechanism against future trauma.

If the stress you're experiencing is ongoing, however, there can be devastating effects.

Neuroscientists from the University of California, Berkeley,found that chronic stress can create long-term changes in the brain. Stress increases the development of white matter, which helps send messages across the brain, but decreases the number of neurons that assist with information processing.

The neuroscientists say the resulting imbalance can affect your brain's ability to communicate with itself, and make you more vulnerable to developing a mental illness.

Defects in white matter have been associated with schizophrenia, chronic depression, bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. Research on post-traumatic stress disorder further shows that it can reduce the amount of gray matter in the brain.

The Berkeley researchers believe their findings could explain why young people who are exposed to chronic stress early in life are prone to learning difficulties, anxiety and other mood disorders.

To reduce the effects of stress, the Mayo Clinic recommends identifying and reducing stress triggers. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, getting enough sleep and participating in a stress-reduction activity such as deep breathing, massage or yoga, can also help.

Stress may harm the brain, but it recovers.

Source: www.cnn.com

Topics: study, researchers, the mayo clinic, university of Iowa, Berkeley, health, brain, memory, research, stress

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