Archive for June, 2012

UCLA researchers have discovered that a diet enriched with a popular omega-3 fatty acid and an ingredient in curry spice helps to preserve walking ability in rats that have experienced damage to their spinal cords.

The findings, published June 26 in the Journal of Neurosurgery: Spine, suggest that these dietary supplements help repair nerve cells and maintain neurological function after degenerative damage to the neck.

“Normal aging often narrows the spinal canal, putting pressure on the spinal cord and injuring tissue,” said principal investigator Dr. Langston Holly, associate professor of neurosurgery at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “While surgery can relieve the pressure and prevent further injury, it can’t repair damage to the cells and nerve fibers. We wanted to explore whether dietary supplementation could help the spinal cord heal itself.”

The UCLA team studied two groups of rats with a condition that simulated cervical myelopathy — a progressive disorder that often occurs in people with spine-weakening conditions like rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis. Cervical myelopathy can lead to disabling neurological symptoms, such as difficulty walking, neck and arm pain, hand numbness, and weakness of the limbs. It’s the most common cause of spine-related walking problems in people over 55.

The first group of animals was fed rat chow that replicated a Western diet high in saturated fats and sugar. The second group consumed a standard diet supplemented with docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and curcumin, a compound in the Indian curry spice turmeric. A third set of rats received a standard rat diet and served as a control group.

Why these supplements? DHA is an omega-3 fatty acid shown to repair damage to cell membranes. Curcumin is a strong antioxidant that previous studies have linked to tissue repair. Both reduce inflammation.

“The brain and spinal cord work together, and years of research demonstrate that supplements like DHA and curcumin can positively influence the brain,” said study co-author Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, a professor of neurosurgery at UCLA. “We suspected that what works in the brain may also work in the spinal cord. When we were unable to find good data to support our hypothesis, we decided to study it ourselves.”

The researchers recorded a baseline of the rats walking and re-examined the animals’ gait on a weekly basis. As early as three weeks, the rats eating the Western diet demonstrated measurable walking problems that worsened as the study progressed. Rats fed a diet enriched with DHA and curcumin walked significantly better than the first group even six weeks after the study’s start.

Next, the scientists examined the rats’ spinal cords to evaluate how diet affected their injury on a molecular level. They measured levels of three markers respectively linked to cell-membrane damage, neural repair and cellular communication.

The rats that ate the Western diet showed higher levels of the marker linked to cell-membrane damage. In contrast, the DHA and curcumin appeared to offset the injury’s effect in the second group, which displayed marker levels that were equivalent to the control group.

Levels of the markers linked to neural repair and cellular communication were significantly lower in the rats raised on the Western diet. Again, levels in the animals fed the supplemented diet appeared similar to those of the control group.

“DHA and curcumin appear to invoke several molecular mechanisms that preserved neurological function in the rats,” said Gomez-Pinilla. “This is an exciting first step toward understanding the role that diet plays in protecting the body from degenerative disease.”

“Our findings suggest that diet can help minimize disease-related changes and repair damage to the spinal cord,” Holly said. “We next want to look at other mechanisms involved in the cascade of events leading up to chronic spinal-cord injury. Our goal is to identify which stages will respond best to medical intervention and identify effective steps for slowing the disease process.”

Other co-authors included Dr. Donald Blaskiewicz, Aiguo Wu, Cameron Feng and Zhe Ying, all of UCLA. Their research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (RO1 NS056413) and the Craig H. Neilsen Foundation.

via Curry spice, omega-3 fatty acid preserve walking ability following spinal-cord injury – UCLA Health and Medicine News.

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What was he thinking? Study turns to ape intellect.

Line blurs between man, animal: Monkeys do math, baboons seem to read, orangutans plan ahead

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In this sweeping review of psychological research, Dan Simon shows how flawed investigations can produce erroneous evidence and why well-meaning juries send innocent people to prison and set the guilty free.

via In Doubt — Dan Simon | Harvard University Press.

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Van Horn and his colleagues estimate that the rod destroyed about 4% of Gage’s cerebral cortex, and about 11% of the total white matter in the frontal lobe. According to their model, the accident damaged some of the major white matter tracts in left the frontal lobe, including the uncinate fasciculus, which connects parts of the frontal cortex to the limbic system, and the superior longitudinal fasciculus, which runs the entire length of the brain to connect all four lobes in each hemisphere to each other. It also damaged the frontal cortex connector hubs, localized regions that contain a high density of connections to other areas.

This would have disrupted global network organization, making the damage far more profound and widespread than previously thought.

via Phineas Gage’s connectome | Mo Costandi | Neurophilosophy blog | Science | guardian.co.uk.

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Two psychiatrists in the US have published some case studies that flesh out an idea that surfaced in 2008. In The Truman Show Delusion, brothers Joel and Ian Gold describe the stories of five psychiatric patients who recalled experiences similar to the 1998 film, in which Jim Carrey’s character Truman Burbank is the unwitting star of a carefully controlled reality show. Three of the patients referenced the film directly.

In 2005, Vaughan Bell, a clinical and research psychologist, wrote a paper about delusions involving the internet. Byrne remembers a patient who was convinced they had a microchip implanted in their head. “If you pick up a psychiatry textbook, they will say your patient thinks they’re Jesus, or the old ones would say Napoleon,” says Byrne. “They are just variations on a theme, and the themes are usually profound paranoid beliefs about being under surveillance, and at some level being special … a variation of a grandiose delusion. In the middle ages, someone might have thought they were a saint. It’s the same story, just a different setting.”

Is it reality? No, it’s Truman Show delusion | Science | The Guardian.


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Genetic Variants Build a Smarter Brain – ScienceNOW.

The researchers also found that some of the variants are associated with intelligence, in that individuals carrying them performed several points better on standardized IQ tests than others. The variants seem to amplify each other’s effects, so that possessing more than one provided a synergistic IQ boost, the team reports online today in the Journal of Neuroscience. “We found a whole range of genetic variants that affect the impact of other variants,” says Thompson, “and we are beginning to understand the guiding principles of these gene networks.”

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We’ve been throwing the smartest people on the planet at the problem of artificial intelligence since the 1960s, and all we have to show for it is the Roomba vacuum cleaner.


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Overcoming Bias : Frozen Or Plastic Brain?.

This article, although somewhat poorly written, provides the basis for debate between plastination and cryo-preservation of one’s brain for the purpose of being revived at some future time. Links are provided, in the first paragraph, to connect the reader to several comment sections where fascinating conversations regarding the merits and flaws of both plastination and cryo-preservation methods for brains are being discussed.

Besides the flaws mentioned here, the issue of what will be necessary for full revivication remains unknown. The best case scenario is still a full brain upload, prior to the death of the individual.�

I’ve often envisioned charitable organizations of the future, who have been specially formed solely for protecting those brains and bodies which lay waiting for the momentous breakthrough the individuals had hoped for at the time of preservation.�

Assuming humans survive several more centuries, or even far into future millennia, it is likely that many of the cultural memes of today will have faded out and new, more rational memes will have replaced them. The mere fact that humans have survived that long would likely indicate this occurrence. In this scenario, ethical considerations will take precedence over financial ones. Selection of who is revived, and for what reasons, will be clearly defined.�

Whether choosing plastination or cryo-preservation, I can hope that humans of the future are wiser and more ethical than we, and will screen out revivication candidates based on other ethical considerations. If someone with known psychopathy, like Dick Cheney, for example, is preserved, then revivifaction shouldn’t occur under any circumstances, unless a cure for psychopathy has come about, or perhaps special accommodations are made available for those with issues of this sort.

Another scenario is that humans of the future will most likely have reached a point of deliberate population limitations, which will, necessarily, severely impact revivication prospects for most of those who are preserved. If we assume the humans of the future have gained wisdom, insight and ethical understandings that we are still, today, struggling towards, then they may not wish to revive those from our era, unless they are those most apt to adapt and contribute to the current (future) cultural norms. �If this assumption is correct, then revivication order, or rights, will be based on those who can contribute most greatly, rather than those who can afford to purchase their place at the front of the line. For example, why should someone with large caches of money and political clout be revivified instead of someone with specific altruistic understandings and capabilities?�


via Overcoming Bias : Frozen Or Plastic Brain?.

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he most exciting thing is that the optic cup developed its structure without guidance from Sasai and his team.

The human eye is a complex structure — but the cues to build it come from inside the growing cells.


“The morphology is the truly extraordinary thing,” says Austin Smith, director of the Centre for Stem Cell Research at the University of Cambridge, UK. �

Until recently, stem-cell biologists had been able to grow embryonic stem-cells only into two-dimensional sheets. But over the past four years, Sasai has used mouse embryonic stem cells to grow well-organized, three-dimensional cerebral-cortex1, pituitary-gland2 and optic-cup3 tissue. His latest result marks the first time that anyone has managed a similar feat using human

via Biologists grow human-eye precursor from stem cells : Nature News & Comment.

via Biologists grow human-eye precursor from stem cells : Nature News & Comment.

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In Conversation with Daniel Kahneman – YouTube.

This public conversation with Nobel Laureate Daniel Kahneman hosted by LSE and the Hay Festivals will focus on his best selling book Thinking, Fast and Slow. Professor Kahneman will be signing copies of his book after the event.

Daniel Kahneman is Eugene Higgins Professor of Psychology Emeritus at Princeton University and a Professor of Public Affairs Emeritus at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs. The recipient of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics for his seminal work in psychology that challenged the rational model of judgment and decision making, his ideas have had a profound and widely regarded impact on many disciplines — including economics, business, law and philosophy. Until now, he has never brought together his many years of research and thinking in one book. His book Thinking, Fast and Slow was published late in 2011.�

Paul Dolan is Professor of Behavioural Science in the Department of Social Policy at the LSE. There are two main themes to his work. The first focuses on developing measures of wellbeing that can be used in policy, particularly in the valuation of non-market goods. Amongst other things, he is currently looking at the happiness hit of the 2012 Olympic Games. The second considers ways in which the lessons from the behavioural sciences can be used to understand and change individual behaviour. This work is focussing on the important role that situational factors play in influencing our behaviour, as summarised in the ‘mindspace’ report for the Cabinet Office.

Evan Davis joined the presenter team on Today in April 2008 following a six-and-a-half year stint as the BBC’s economics editor. He also presents The Bottom Line, Radio 4’s business discussion programme and Dragons’ Den, the BBC Two business reality show. Before his promotion to editor, Evan worked for BBC Two’s Newsnight from 1997 to 2001 and as a general economics correspondent from 1993.

via In Conversation with Daniel Kahneman – YouTube.

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Freud’s theory of unconscious conflict linked to anxiety symptoms in new brain research.

Shevrin has worked for nearly 40 years trying to show a causal relation between anxiety and phobia related symptoms �and unconscious conflict (repression). His latest research makes the connections needed to show this relationship. This is an excellent example of crossing disciplines (neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and psychoanalysis)�in order to achieve results.�

These results create a compelling case that unconscious conflicts cause or contribute to the anxiety symptoms the patient is experiencing.”


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Strong emotions synchronize brains | Machines Like Us.

Human Emotions are highly contagious. This may seem like a “duh” bit of research to those who are tuned in to the dynamics of others around them, but to most people, this is big news.�

Marketers have known this for a long time. Salespeople and infomercial spokespeople know how to get people enthused, excited and pumped up simply by being that way themselves.�

Three supporting brain networks seem to synchronize �– vision, attention and sense of touch.�

via Strong emotions synchronize brains | Machines Like Us.

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via Antonio Damasio: The quest to understand consciousness – YouTube.

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Living Stem Cells Discovered in 17-Day-Old Human Corpses | Stem-Cell Therapies | LiveScience.

Another question in the pursuit of

What is Consciousness?

What is Life?

When does life end?�

Are we a society of “I”s, or are we a society made of of gazillions of cells which being hosted by illusionary “I”s?�

via Living Stem Cells Discovered in 17-Day-Old Human Corpses | Stem-Cell Therapies | LiveScience.

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MIT creates glucose fuel cell to power implanted brain-computer interfaces | ExtremeTech.

Neuroengineers at MIT have created a implantable fuel cell that generates electricity from the glucose present in the cerebrospinal fluid that flows around your brain and spinal cord.”

So you can implant computers in your brain and they won’t need power — they’ll be powered by your food, just like the rest of your body.

via MIT creates glucose fuel cell to power implanted brain-computer interfaces | ExtremeTech.

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