Category Archives: Parkinson’s Disease

Lasers: A new way to map the brain!

pixabay lasersResearchers have found a way to map the brain using lasers! Chemists from Stanford University have come up with a way to track blood vessels in the brain in a new, non-invasive technique. Ultimately, this research could help improve the understanding of Alzheimer’s Disease.

Current methods for investigating the brain are either too invasive or not detailed enough. Surgery can cause trauma that can negatively impact brain activity, and while MRIs and CT scans can give a good amount of information, sometimes it just isn’t enough.

That’s where this new technique comes in. Researchers inject water-soluble carbon nanotubes into a mouse’s bloodstream. These nanotubes fluoresce at particular wavelengths, so when researchers shine a near-infrared laser over the mouse’s skull, they can see the nanotubes, which show the structures of blood vessels. Scientists were able to see about 3mm underneath the scalp, and this technique doesn’t appear to have any negative effects on brain functions.

This research was developed in mice, but it may be able to be used in humans as well. The technique would need to be modified to allow researchers to see deeper into the brain, and they would need to identify an appropriate fluorescing agent to use. But hopefully, this new technique could give researchers a new way to study strokes, migraines, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases. Read more about it here:

Alzheimer’s Disease successfully reversed in mice!

alzheimer's freeThe incidence of Alzheimer’s Disease is increasing, and it’s projected that by the year 2050, the number of people with Alzheimer’s could triple. But new research could change that: researchers have discovered a drug compound that has successfully reversed the effects of Alzheimer’s disease in mice! After just one dose of this compound, called TC-2153, mice with Alzheimer’s were able to learn just as well as healthy mice!

Here’s how they figured it out: the protein STEP (STriatal-Enriched tyrosine Phosphatase) attacks neurotransmitters in the brain and prevents patients with Alzheimer’s from learning and retaining new information. STEP levels are often elevated in patients with Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s Disease. Knowing this, researchers turned to mice for help. They previously found that when Alzheimer’s mouse models (mice that are genetically engineered to develop the disease) had lowered levels of STEP, their cognitive abilities were similar to those of unaffected mice. The problem is that researchers could genetically lower STEP levels in mice- but you can’t do that in humans.

The understanding of STEP’s role in the disease led researchers to search for different compounds that could block it. And it appears that they’ve succeeded! More research is certainly needed to determine whether or not TC-2153 will work in other animals, and possibly humans, but the identification of this STEP-inhibiting compound is certainly good news! Read more about it here:

Rabbits pilot wireless medical implants

iStock_000003396050SmallMedical advances over the last several decades have resulted in implantable devices that can improve the quality of human and animal lives. The pacemaker and neurostimulator are two of those devices, and with the help of rabbits, researchers are on their way to making some amazing improvements!

When a patient has one of these devices implanted, it’s understood that they will need follow-up surgeries at certain intervals to replace the battery. Pacemaker, neurostimulator, and spinal cord stimulator batteries last, on average, 5-10 years. But recently, researchers have been able to regulate a rabbit’s heart with a pacemaker that operates off wireless energy! This specific implant is only 3mm long. You can imagine the reduced recovery time after a surgery to implant something this size!

While some doctors are skeptical of life-supporting devices relying on external power, researchers are working to adapt this technology for other types of implants as well. Neurostimulator and spinal cord stimulator batteries tend to be about half the size and thickness of a deck of cards, and often, patients experience a good amount of pain at the battery implantation site. Eliminating the need for a battery for these units could make a huge difference for patients- let’s hope that this technology proves successful!

Do YOU have a battery-powered implant? If so, I’d love to hear your thoughts- do you think this technology will help you?

Alzheimer’s, worms, and paper airplanes

Jet Aeroplane Landing from Bright Twilight SkyAlzheimer’s Disease affects over 35 million people worldwide, and it’s expected that by 2050, over 115 million people will suffer from this disease. Understanding this disease is important- so what do worms and paper airplanes have to do with anything?

As you age, proteins in your brain build up and can prevent normal cell function. Neural damage due to protein build-up is seen in Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and Huntington’s disease. But researchers have found a molecule that can enhance defense mechanisms against these toxic proteins. And recent studies have shown that it effectively clears these proteins out of worms (C. elegans) and extends their lifespan. 

It sounds far-fetched, but this little worm can actually give scientists a lot of valuable information. By using such simple organisms, researchers can understand more about the underlying mechanisms of dementia. It’s like making paper airplanes- the aerodynamic principles behind paper airplane flight are also relevant when it comes to the principles behind flying a Boeing 777. Think of these little worms as the paper airplanes, and the brain of an Alzheimer’s patient as the Boeing 777. Let’s hope that these worms give researchers the important information they need to help develop a successful therapy for Alzheimer’s!

Are there animals in YOUR medicine cabinet?

Dog and pills.How have animals helped YOU today? If you’re not familiar with research, you might not have any idea. But did you know that most of our medical advances wouldn’t have been possible without animals? It’s amazing to learn about the ways they’ve helped us!

Antibiotic ointment, aspirin, cold medicines, penicillin, anti-depressants, blood pressure and cholesterol medications, insulin, anti-coagulants, anesthesia, HIV drugs, chemotherapy, dialysis, CT scans, MRIs, prosthetics, organ transplants, and thousands of other medications and procedures were developed and determined to be safe for your use, thanks to dedicated researchers and the animals they work with.

The list goes on. I will guarantee that every person reading this has benefited from at least some of these advances. What’s more, I’ll bet your pets have benefited as well! And that’s a wonderful thing! Think of the symptoms we can alleviate due to medications, the life-threatening emergencies that we can SURVIVE, and the illnesses that our children may never get, thanks to vaccines. Polio, measles, cervical cancer, rabies, chicken pox, whooping cough, tetanus, Hepatitis B- and that’s just the beginning of the list!

EMBRACE it. Be thankful for it. The next time you reach into your medicine cabinet, take a minute to think about the scientific advances that led to the development of the medication that’s about to help you!

Have researchers discovered the Philosopher’s Stone of medicine?

iStock_000027186605SmallThe Philosopher’s Stone is a legendary substance that is believed to turn ordinary metals into gold. And in a way, researchers may have found it- a way to turn ordinary cells into extremely valuable new cells that could change the face of medicine.

Believe it or not, plants were the inspiration for this discovery. When exposed to environmental stressors, plant cells can change into immature cells that can develop into completely new plants. So scientists listened to the plants, and decided to see if they could create a similar response when ‘stressing’ mouse cells. And it worked! After trying several different tactics, they found that soaking cells in an acidic solution (think mildly acidic like vinegar, not sulfuric or hydrochloric acid) actually caused them to reprogram.

This breakthrough has enabled researchers to actually create cells that act like stem cells. Stem cells are important because they are flexible enough to be able to develop into any kind of cell (unlike skin cells, muscle cells, liver cells, etc. which already have defined purposes) with the right instructions. The use of stem cells isolated from embryos has been controversial, so this development has really been creating a buzz in the medical community!

Could ‘stressing’ cells help human patients? Is it possible that patients with limb amputations, nerve injuries, or degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s could benefit from this research? While it’s too early to tell, this is one amazing discovery that’s definitely worth keeping tabs on!

Sugary drinks may cause more damage than you think

Child drinking unhealthy bottled sodaThere’s plenty of research out there showing that sugary drinks can contribute to hyperactivity, obesity, heart problems, and diabetes. We already know that. But new research might make you pause the next time you grab a sugary drink from the fridge- or give your kids soda instead of water.

We know what sugar can do to your body. But what about your brain? It’s a really good question- and you need to pay close attention to the answer! In recent laboratory studies in Sydney, Australia, it was found that hundreds of proteins in the brain were altered in rats that consumed sugar water instead of plain water. In fact, there were more changes seen in these proteins than in rats given caffeine!

The most worrisome part? A significant number of these altered proteins are known to play a role in cellular lifespan, and 30% of these proteins are linked to conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, schizophrenia, and cancer. If sugary drinks can play a role in the development of neurological disorders, that’s one more really good reason to choose water instead of soda or sugary juices!

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear them!