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March 22, 2007, 10:15 PM CT

Robotic brace for stroke recovery

Robotic brace for stroke recovery Maggie Fermental, a stroke survivor and study participant, regained full motion at the elbow after 18 hours using the device and has maintained her progress to date. Photo courtesy / Myomo, Inc.
At age 32, Maggie Fermental suffered a stroke that left her right side paralyzed. After a year and a half of conventional treatment with minimal results, she tried a new kind of robotic treatment developed by MIT engineers. A study to appear in the April 2007 issue of the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation shows that the device, which helped Fermental, also had positive results for five other severe stroke patients in a pilot clinical trial.

Fermental, a former surgical nurse, used the rehabilitation device 18 times over nine weeks. After 16 sessions, Fermental, now a stroke education nurse at Beth Israel Hospital, was able to fully bend and straighten her elbow on her own for the first time since the stroke. "It was incredible to be able to move my arm again on command," she said. "Cooking, dressing, shopping, turning on light switches, opening cabinets--it's easier now that I have two arms again".

The device--which sensed Fermental's electrical muscle activity and provided power assistance to facilitate her movements--also altered her brain.

Following a stroke, the destruction of brain cells leads to loss of motor function. With painstakingly repetitive exercise treatment, other neurons can take over some of the lost function. Devices such as the MIT-developed robotic brace can help people exploit their neural plasticity--the increasingly recognized ability of the brain to rewire itself in response to experience and training.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source

March 22, 2007, 4:54 AM CT

Energy supplement for Parkinson's disease

Energy supplement for Parkinson's disease Dr. Kapil D. Sethi, Medical College of Georgia
Credit: Medical College of Georgia
Whether a supplement used by athletes to boost energy levels and build muscle can slow progression of Parkinsons disease is the focus of a North American study.

Creatine, under study for many neurological and neuromuscular diseases such as Lou Gehrigs and muscular dystrophy, may help Parkinsons patients by giving an energy boost to dying cells, says Dr. Kapil D. Sethi, neurologist and director of the Movement Disorders Program at the Medical College of Georgia.

We think it may help cells that are damaged or overworked, says Dr. Sethi, a site principal investigator on the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke study. MCG hopes to recruit 45 patients for the study that will enroll 1,720 patients at 51 sites in the United States and Canada.

Mitochondria, the powerhouse for cells, become dysfunctional in the brain, muscle and platelet cells of a number of patients with Parkinsons disease, Dr. Sethi says. Powerhouse dysfunction is discernible in postmortem brain studies and in muscle biopsies and measures of platelet activity in the living.

By giving more energy to the cell, you are giving them a safety margin, Dr. Sethi says. If a cell is dying, it takes another route and that would be surviving.

The goal is to slow progression of a disease that affects about 1 million people in North America. Hallmarks include tremors, rigidity and slowed movement. Late in the disease, the majority of patients also develop dementia and behavior disorders.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source

March 21, 2007, 10:12 PM CT

On Wandering Minds

On Wandering Minds
Do your thoughts stray from your work or studies? Do you catch yourself making to-do lists when your attention should be elsewhere? Welcome to the club.

College students reported mind-wandering almost one-third of the time in their daily lives, as per a new study led by faculty and graduate students at The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. The study would be reported in the recent issue of Psychological Science.

The study followed 124 undergraduates, who carried personal digital assistants for a week. The PDAs signaled the students eight times a day between noon and midnight to report whether their thoughts were wandering away from what they were doing and to answer multiple-choice questions about their current activity, surroundings and state of mind.

On average, the students reported mind-wandering in about 30 percent of their responses. But individual results varied widely: One student reported no mind wandering, while another reported it in more than 90 percent of responses.

Despite being so common, mind-wandering remains little studied and poorly understood, said Dr. Michael Kane, an associate professor of psychology at UNCG, who led the study. If you want to understand peoples mental lives, this is a phenomenon we ought to be thinking about, he told the Associated Press.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source

March 13, 2007, 10:20 PM CT

why we smell better when we sniff?

why we smell better when we sniff? Cross section of olfactory sensory neurons in a mouse nose visualized by fluorescent staining.
Credit: Huikai Tian, PhD, Minghong Ma, PhD, University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine.
Unlike most of our sensory systems that detect only one type of stimuli, our sense of smell works double duty, detecting both chemical and mechanical stimuli to improve how we smell, as per University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine scientists in the recent issue of Nature Neuroscience.

This finding, plus the fact that both types of stimuli produce reaction in olfactory nerve cells, which control how our brain perceives what we smell, explains why we sniff to smell something, and why our sense of smell is synchronized with inhaling.

"The driving force for such synchronization remained a mystery for more than 50 years," says senior author Minghong Ma, PhD, Assistant Professor of Neuroscience. "These results help us understand how the mammalian olfactory system encodes and decodes odor information in the environment".

Scientists tested two different types of stimulation on olfactory neurons in mice: chemical stimuli, such as those used in making perfumes that have almond-like and banana-like scents, and mechanical stimuli, that is pressure carried by air flow to the nostrils while breathing.

The group did this first by puffing a chemical stimulus into the nose. As expected, this produced a reaction in the olfactory neurons, the primary sensory neurons in the nose that perceive odors. Scientists then puffed a solution without the chemical stimuli into the mouse's nose. This also produced a similar, but smaller reaction in the olfactory neurons. By decreasing pressure of the non-odor solution, they also observed that the reaction in the olfactory neurons was less, confirming that it was sensitive to mechanical stimulation.........

Posted by: Sue      Read more         Source

March 13, 2007, 9:43 PM CT

Sleep Disorders Can Impair Children's IQs

Sleep Disorders Can Impair Children's IQs
Three decades ago, medical researchers began sounding the alarm about how lead exposure causes IQ deficits in children. Today, scientists at the University of Virginia Health System say children with sleep disorders can face similar risks of intellectual impairment.

UVa scientists have been studying sleep disturbances in children with enlarged tonsils and adenoids for the past seven years. In a recent study, they discovered that youngsters who snore nightly scored significantly lower on vocabulary tests than those who snore less often.

"Vocabulary scores are known to be the best single predictor of a child's IQ and the strongest predictor of academic success," explains Dr. Paul M. Suratt, a pulmonologist who directs the UVa Sleep Laboratory.

As per Dr. Suratt, the vocabulary differences linked to nightly snoring are equivalent to the IQ dissimilarities attributed to lead exposure. "Studies show that, even at nontoxic levels, lead exposure can reduce a child's IQ by more than seven points," he notes.

Sleep disorders can be intellectually and behaviorally detrimental to children because they interrupt the deep sleep patterns needed for healthy development. At night, children with sleep disorders can be observed snoring, snorting, gasping, tossing and turning. During the day, these children can be irritable, hyperactive and unable to concentrate.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source

March 13, 2007, 9:22 PM CT

Vanishing Neurons Of Adolescence

Vanishing Neurons Of Adolescence Photo by L. Brian Stauffer
Psychology professor Janice Juraska, right, and graduate student Julie Markham
Scientists at the University of Illinois have observed that adolescence is a time of remodeling in the prefrontal cortex, a brain structure dedicated to higher functions such as planning and social behaviors.

The study of rats observed that both males and females lose neurons in the ventral prefrontal cortex between adolescence and adulthood, with females losing about 13 percent more neurons in this brain region than males.

This is the first study to demonstrate that the number of neurons in the prefrontal cortex decreases during adolescence. It is also the first to document sex differences in the number of neurons in the PFC. The study appears in the Feb. 9 issue of the journal Neuroscience.

Earlier studies in humans have found gradual reductions in the volume of the prefrontal cortex from adolescence to adulthood, said psychology professor and principal investigator Janice M. Juraska. "But the finding that neurons are actually dying is completely new. This indicates that the brain reorganizes in a very fundamental way in adolescence".

Juraska, graduate student Julie Markham and undergraduate student John Morris observed that the number of neurons decreased in the ventral, but not dorsal, prefrontal cortex during adolescence. The number of glial cells, which surround and support the neurons, remained stable in the ventral PFC and increased in the dorsal PFC.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source

March 6, 2007, 3:48 PM CT

Light-activated compound silences nerves

Light-activated compound silences nerves A compound that halts nerve cell activity only when exposed to light glows in this image of two nerve cells.
Credit: Washington University School of Medicin
Brain activity has been in comparison to a light bulb turning on in the head. Researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have reversed this notion, creating a drug that stops brain activity when a light shines on it.

The unexpected result, reported online in Nature Neuroscience, turned several lights on in researchers' heads.

"This is daydreaming at this point, but we might one day combine this drug with a small implanted light to stop seizures," says senior author Steven Mennerick, Ph.D. associate professor of psychiatry and of anatomy and neurobiology. "Some current experimental epilepsy therapys involve the implanting of an electrode, so why not a light?".

The new compound activates the same receptor used by a number of anesthetics and tranquilizers, making it harder for a brain cell to respond to stimulation. Mennerick and his colleagues including lead author Larry Eisenman, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of neurology, tested the drug on cells in culture set up to behave like they were involved in a seizure, with the cells rapidly and repeatedly firing. When they added the new drug and shone a light on the cells, the seizure-like firing pattern calmed.

If the drug is adapted for epilepsy, Mennerick notes, it is most likely to help in cases where seizures consistently originate from the same brain region. Theoretically, doctors could keep a patient on regular doses of the new drug and implant a small fiber optic light in the dysfunctional region. The light would activate the drug only when seizure-like firing patterns started to appear.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source

March 5, 2007, 5:07 AM CT

Severe PTSD damages children's brains

Severe PTSD damages children's brains
Severe stress can damage a child's brain, say scientists at the Stanford University School of Medicine and Lucile Packard Children's Hospital. The scientists observed that children with post-traumatic stress disorder and high levels of the stress hormone cortisol were likely to experience a decrease in the size of the hippocampus - a brain structure important in memory processing and emotion.

Eventhough similar effects have been seen in animal studies, this is the first time the findings have been replicated in children. The scientists focused on kids in extreme situations to better understand how stress affects brain development.

"We're not talking about the stress of doing your homework or fighting with your dad," said Packard Children's child psychiatry expert Victor Carrion, MD. "We're talking about traumatic stress. These kids feel like they're stuck in the middle of a street with a truck barreling down at them".

Carrion, assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at the medical school and director of Stanford's early life stress research program, and his collaborators speculate that cognitive deficits arising from stress hormones interfere with psychiatric treatment and prolong symptoms.

The children in the study were suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, as a result of undergoing physical, emotional or sexual abuse, witnessing violence or experiencing lasting separation and loss. This type of developmental trauma often impairs the child's ability to reach social, emotional and academic milestones.........

Posted by: JoAnn      Read more         Source

February 27, 2007, 8:04 PM CT

Computer Model Mimics Neural Processes

Computer Model Mimics Neural Processes An MIT model for object recognition takes as input the unlabeled images of digital photographs from the street scene database (top) and generates automatic annotations (bottom row).
For the first time, MIT researchers have applied a computer model of how the brain processes visual information to a complex, real world task: recognizing the objects in a busy street scene. The scientists were pleasantly surprised at the power of this new approach.

"People have been talking about computers imitating the brain for a long time," said Tomaso Poggio, the Eugene McDermott Professor of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and a member of the McGovern Institute for Brain Research at MIT. "That was Alan Turing's original motivation in the 1940s. But in the last 50 years, computer science and AI (artificial intelligence) have developed independently of neuroscience."

"Our work is biologically inspired computer science," said Poggio, who is also co-director of the Center for Biological and Computational Learning.

"We developed a model of the visual system that was meant to be useful for neuroresearchers in designing and interpreting experiments, but that also could be used for computer science," said Thomas Serre, a postdoctoral associate in Poggio's lab and lead author of a paper on the work in the March 2007 IEEE Transactions on Pattern Analysis and Machine Intelligence.

"We chose street scene recognition as an example because it has a restricted set of object categories, and it has practical social applications," said Serre.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source

February 27, 2007, 7:38 PM CT

Association Between Gene And Intelligence

Association Between Gene And Intelligence
A team of scientists, led by psychiatric geneticists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, has gathered the most extensive evidence to date that a gene that activates signaling pathways in the brain influences one kind of intelligence. They have confirmed a link between the gene, CHRM2, and performance IQ, which involves a person's ability to organize things logically.

"This is not a gene for intelligence," says Danielle M. Dick, Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry and lead author on the study. "It's a gene that's involved in some kinds of brain processing, and specific alterations in the gene appear to influence IQ. But this single gene isn't going to be the difference between whether a person is a genius or has below-average intelligence."

Dick's team comprehensively studied the DNA along the gene and observed that several variations within the CHRM2 gene could be correlated with slight differences in performance IQ scores, which measure a person's visual-motor coordination, logical and sequential reasoning, spatial perception and abstract problem solving skills. When people had more than one positive variation in the gene, the improvements in performance IQ were cumulative. The study's findings are available online in Behavioral Genetics and will appear in an upcoming print issue of that journal.........

Posted by: Daniel      Read more         Source

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Did you know?
The drug Ativan is better than Valium or Dilantin for controlling severe epileptic seizures, according to a new review of studies.Ativan, or lorazepam, and Valium, or diazepam, are both benzodiazepines, the currently preferred class of drugs for treating severe epileptic seizures. Dilantin, or phenytoin, is an anticonvulsant long used for the treatment of epileptic seizures. Archives of neurology news blog

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