Thursday, June 5, 2014

Stem Cell Soup for the Soul (Brain too)

Bone marrow cells may now provide ingredients for a stem cell soup for brain damage.  Rachel Okolicsanyi, a scientist from Genomics Research Centre at QUT's Institute of Health and Biomedical Innovation, may provide a solution to the vexing problem of brain cell re-population.  Brain cells only reproduce in select areas of the brain.  Damage to the brain can take a long time to overcome, if ever.

From the article, "Unlocking the potential of stem cells to repair brain damage," the doctor says:

'In the short-term it is proof that simple manipulations can influence the stem cell and in the long-term it is about the possibility of increasing the neural potential of these stem cells.'

This is a stepping stone to a more powerful medical technology.  The applications to brain health are wide ranging, from stroke patients to car crash victims, and could change the way we treat people with intractable brain damage.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Smile, it increase your face (and market) value

In a special article for CNN, Shawn Achor, an expert on optimism, happiness, etc, discusses the secret to success.  Happiness may bring rewards more than previously thought.

"Some people think if you are happy, you are blind to reality. But when we research it, happiness actually raises every single business and educational outcome for the brain."  (CNN Article)

Achor goes on to discuss how our genetic happiness preset level can be fought.  The CNN article also provides a number of helpful methods of acquiring a higher happiness quotient.  One of them is meditation.

A meditation teacher, Mantak Chia, teaches a form of meditation based on smiling.  While similar in content to other forms of meditation: upright seated posture, relaxed breathing, concentration on a single object -- Chia adds a twist.  When meditating, he suggests a small closed mouth smile.  This may encourage additional inner peace through facial feedback.  When facial feedback occurs, even forced facial expressions may head back into the brain.  Just as a meditation phrase (or mantra) may key one into the subject of contemplation, a subtle smile may also encourage positive feelings through this mechanism.

Anchor describes a great many more practices for maximum happiness in the article, and also in his book, The Happiness Advantage

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Plug into the Future

The future of brain technology may lay in its integration with artificial intelligence (A.I.).  For now, the prospects of a brain on the wire appears to be as a treatment for epilepsy.  With the development of better electrodes that measure small electrical fields developed by neurons, devices can be created that will correct a malfunctioning brain.

Old fashioned brain sensing technology could soon be obsolete.
A press release from the Norwegian University of Life Sciences, describes a study on the cutting edge of this research.

“‘Electrodes are already being used to measure brain cell activity related to seizures in epilepsy patients, as well as planning surgical procedures. In the future, LFP signals [blogger's note: LFP, or Low Field Potential, means that the signals are very weak, but are still full of information.] measured by implanted electrodes could detect an impending epilepsy seizure and stop it by injecting a suitable electrical current,’ [Doctor Gaute] Einevoll says.”

As a piece of brainy tech, what Dr. Einevoll describes here is more like an implanted automatic defibrillator than a link to a computer intelligence.  Though, as electrodes get smaller, and more sensitive to brain cell ‘chatter,’ the possibility of an implanted cap of electrodes listening in becomes all too real.

Aside from healing us, what it could teach us could prove more groundbreaking.  The development of the ultimate form of artificial intelligence, one that perfectly mimics our own, may come from implant technology.  The more we begin to understand the brain, the more easily a computer could be programmed to think like us — perhaps by learning to understand the conversations our neurons use now.

Nothing "beets" eggs and some fish!

In order to increase intelligence in adult mammals, the trick may be as simple as what you eat.  According to MIT scientists, in a study published in the journal, FASEB, eating eggs, beets, and deep water fish might just be the way to a stronger brain.

Eggs contain brain cell stimulating choline.
From the press release published on
“In the study, gerbils were given various combinations of three compounds needed for healthy brain membranes: choline, found in eggs; uridine monophosphate (UMP) found in beets; and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), found in fish oils…’[and] now that we know how to make gerbils smarter,’ said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal.”

The scientists found that the experimental gerbils given the ingredients found more success in navigating mazes than a control group which was not.  After dissection, more synaptic activity consistent with higher intelligence was also noted.

So, students take heed, that Ramen noodle diet is not the ideal nutritional plan for a higher GPA.  Instead, a protein breakfast, filled with fried eggs, smoked salmon, and perhaps a cold beet salad might just be the prescription that puts you at the top of the class.

A recipe for beet salad with goat cheese is here for your own experimentation.

Walking the Brainy Path

Lucy, our bipedal ancestor, marked a significant revolution in neuro-anatomy.  Given that we finally compartmentalized our anatomy half-wise, with the legs now exclusively for travel and hands free to finagle, tool making was born.  So too grew marked accomplishments in language around 75,000 years ago, another useful tool for our early ancestors.

As we began walking on foot and making larger strides in tool making, a new kind of group mind emerged according to University of Colorado at Boulder archeologists.  Art, or cultural achievements, were evidence of this new form of mind emergence.

Next time you take a step in those new Nike Air’s, or tap that iPhone screen, consider the long journey our minds made to reach this level of achievement.

Also, while walking the brainy path, remember that to stave off mental decline, such footsteps still are the fundamental exercise for a youthful brain.  See the earlier blog entry, Walk Away, The Default Won’t Stay, for more detail on why walking is so good for the brain.

Another good article for the weight and brain conscious is this little gem from USA Today: Weight loss improves memory, research shows.  In it, research focused in on memory and organizational skill  with substantial increases after weight loss surgery.  Another great reason to exercise as a path to mental youth and wellness.

Spines or Space

A recent study has used skin cells from schizophrenic patients to clone neurons in their genome.  This is an example of therapeutic stem cell cloning.  Once the patients skin cells are turned into pluripotent stem cells, they are then turned into brain cells with chemical means.  After this, the researchers examined how the new neurons connected to each other through dendritic spines from each of the patients own genetic code.   In the study, they proved that neurons in patients with schizophrenia do not connect as well as they should.  Only one of the commonly used anti-psychotics, called Loxapine, improved the connections of the neurons to each other. How effective others may be is a study of measure to be completed with other factors examined.

In this blog’s previous entry, Hormones Bring a New Brain, it was reported that Northwestern University scientists unlocked the code of estrogen receptors with a new class of chemicals.  These chemicals may trump Loxapine in their spine building potential, and connect the sick back with reality.  When knowing is half the battle, in spines versus space, building connections may just win the war.

(None of the preceding document(s) should be construed as medical advice).

Your Personality Is Your Frontal Lobe

When the brain goes haywire, and a person can no longer infer the mental state of others, the frontal lobe is to blame.  In a study performed by researchers at the University of Haifa, in Israel, frontal lobe damage has been implicated in psychopathy. Psychopathic personality types typically lack remorse, and may be influenced to behave without conscience.

People with traumatic brain injury also seem to be deficient with a similar constellation of symptoms as psychopaths.  Easily, technologies like tDCS may be able to re-activate those brain areas whose metabolism have been lulled into sleep mode.  When frontal lobe damage occurs in multiple incidents, dissocial behavior may result.  Children ought to avoid activities which harm their brains, as the stress response is more easily programmed into their memory centers than adults.  In order to decrease destructive social unrest, it ought to be common policy to treat traumatic brain injuries early, and perhaps institute treatment in prisons as a part of regular rehabilitation.  Otherwise a bad personality will result.

Disease models aside, the frontal lobe is the most advanced and the most human part of our most precious organ.  Not only responsible for empathic inferences, it also houses the higher executive function which allows us to make good judgments socially.  Humor is also located there, and it is apparent that psychopaths and trauma patients are no laughing matter.