Researchers 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:
The day before surgery, a patient would be injected with nanoprobes that migrate to the tumor cells. These nanoprobes don’t affect normal brain tissue. Then, during surgery, the surgeon would use a device that detects these nanoprobes to determine whether they had successfully removed all of the malignant cells. The device looks like a laser pointer, and in laboratory studies with mouse models of human GBM, researchers were able to remove all of the malignant cells from the mice!
This may be ready for human clinical trials relatively quickly, and it’s possible that it could be helpful in the treatment of other types of brain cancer as well. Read more about it here:
People suffering from chronic pain often have to deal with depression and lack of motivation. It can be difficult to explain to friends and family who say “Just get out and DO something… it will make you feel better!” But now, there’s some science behind the lack of motivation felt by chronic pain sufferers.
Chronic pain, as debilitating as it may be, actually has a purpose. It serves to limit your behavior in such a way as to promote healing and prevent further injuries. And in the process of preventing you from further damage, chronic pain may actually rewire your brain in a way that decreases your motivation.
Researchers found that mice with chronic pain showed decreased motivation, even when they were given painkillers. They looked at a specific area in the brain associated with pain and motivation and found that nerve cells weren’t firing properly. They found that a specific chemical, called galanin, was the key. When galanin receptors were inactivated in this area, neurons began firing properly, and injured mice showed similar motivation to control mice.
Could treatments targeting galanin receptors change brain currents in such a way as to alleviate the lack of motivation that many HUMAN chronic pain sufferers feel? The emotional effects of chronic pain are often just as draining as the physical effects, and this research could bring hope to chronic pain sufferers. Read more about it here:
Ever wonder why you can’t remember anything that happened when you were a baby? Babies can certainly form memories- but they don’t store them in a way that allows them to access those memories when they’re older. It’s called infantile amnesia, and new research is shedding light on a possible physical mechanism for the phenomenon.
It turns out that when you’re a baby, new brain cells are generated at such a fast rate that essentially there’s too much cell turnover to allow the infant to store memories. They can form memories, but if they can’t store those memories, they can’t access them when they get older.
Through research in rodents, guinea pigs and degus, researchers found that changing the rate of neurogenesis (generating new brain cells) affects memory storage. Animals who had their neuron production slowed down were able to remember things better than those that had their neuron production sped up (like the high rate of neurogenesis in infants).
It’s possible that lack of language skills and emotional development still play a role in infantile amnesia, but investigation into the rate of neurogenesis is certainly interesting. By looking into other effects of changing the rate of neurogenesis, could a treatment or prevention for Alzheimer’s be on the horizon? What do you think?
Yes, you read that right- new research suggests that diets including specific types of cocoa could prevent Alzheimer’s! We’re not talking about the candy bars you grab at the grocery store check-out line, though… we’re talking about cocoa extract.
In Alzheimer’s patients, the accumulation of beta amyloid proteins damages nerve cells. But through a recent mouse study, researchers found that a specific cocoa extract prevents this accumulation. Lavado cocoa extract is rich in antioxidants called polyphenols, and the study suggests that using it as a dietary supplement could help prevent Alzheimer’s disease.
Because brain damage begins to occur in Alzheimer’s patients long before the onset of physical symptoms, prevention is extremely important.
This isn’t the first time the chocolate has been recommended for health benefits. Past research suggests that chocolate may lower your cholesterol levels and reduce your risk of stroke and diabetes. Read more about cocoa and Alzheimer’s here:
Octopuses are pretty awesome. Not only can they camouflage themselves by changing colors and imitating other animals to blend into their surroundings, but they can teach researchers about the brain’s ability to store and recall memories. Studying the octopus has led to new understanding of linguistics (ever wonder what an octopus and your tongue have in common?), and the venom from some species of octopus has been important in the understanding of new opportunities in drug development. And their arms can detach, taste whatever they’re touching, and also act like penises.
Intrigued? I think I’ve found the ultimate octopus video that proves how much octopuses kick ass. I promise, watch this one, you won’t be sorry. And if you don’t laugh, you may want to have yourself checked out. Click here to watch it.
We can learn a lot from animals, and sometimes, a little bit of humor is all it takes to get people to remember that! And there’s no doubt: octopuses kick ass.
These fruit flies may not be quite as smooth as Michael Jackson, but they can certainly moonwalk!
In an attempt to understand how the brain directs the body to walk backwards, scientists turned to fruit flies. Researchers in Austria developed many different strains of fruit flies, each of which was modified so that different areas of the brain responded to heat. After testing thousands of strains of flies, they found a strain that walked backwards when the temperature was increased! And while creating a fly that can moonwalk is cool, the science behind it is what’s important; this fly is helping scientists map the neural pathways involved in walking backwards. It turns out that something that is so simple for us really isn’t understood very well. There are also some animals that lack the ability to walk backwards, and it’s possible that the evolution of these neural signals could be significant in more ways than you might think.
Check out this video and judge for yourself how these flies compare to the King of Pop… we just need some background music, and we’re all set! No word on flies that will dance to ‘Thriller,’ though. Read more here:
As humans, we use ‘voice areas’ in our brains to recognize who is talking and determine the speaker’s emotion. The question: Do dogs process voices in the same way? Are dogs in tune to their owners’ emotions? The dog is often referred to as ‘man’s best friend.’ And new research is proving just how right that is!
It turns out that dogs also have dedicated ‘voice areas’ in their brains- and they’re in the same location as a human’s voice area. In a study looking at how dogs process different sounds, researchers in Hungary trained dogs (golden retrievers and border collies) to lie still in an MRI machine during brain scans while listening to dog and human sounds.
The study found that both humans and dogs were able to read the emotions of the other species correctly, and both responded to the emotions of the other species in similar ways.
What does this mean? Maybe the dog is man’s best friend because he really GETS us. If you own a dog, you’ve probably experienced this before. And now, when you think your dog is recognizing that you’re happy or sad, you can rest assured that you’re probably right!
Glioblastoma is an aggressive form of brain cancer that can be difficult to treat. The tumors are often located in inaccessible areas, making surgery impossible. So researchers in Atlanta got creative and figured out a way to make the cancer cells more accessible. And their technique is not unlike the concept of a mouse trap- but for this one, rats helped figure it out!
Glioblastoma cells migrate along nerves and blood vessels. And researchers used that information to their advantage by creating a small rod that mimics the shape of these nerves and blood vessels. Through animal studies in rats, they’ve shown that the cancer cells then ‘take the bait’ and migrate along this rod. At the end of the rod, the cells are met with a cancer-killing drug. So instead of delivering drugs to the tumor, the tumor comes to the drug!
This could make a huge difference for patients with inoperable tumors. Not only could this cancer cell “mouse trap” lure cells into an area that would be easier for doctors to access, but it could also work by shrinking slow-growing tumors to the point where they wouldn’t be able to do as much damage. Let’s hope that this treatment makes its way into human trials quickly!
When you have the flu, what’s one of the first things you do? If you’re like most people, you take something to reduce your fever. But new research suggests that this could be more harmful than you might think.
Your body’s temperature rises for a reason. When your body senses infection, your brain detects telltale chemical signals in your bloodstream and your body temperature rises. The theory is that your body is trying to fight off bacteria and viruses that are sensitive to temperature changes. Often, though, our first instinct is to get our body temperature back to normal, and we turn to ibuprofen or other fever-reducing drugs (antipyretics) for relief.
Research 40 years ago showed that patients taking antipyretics shed more virus particles than those who didn’t. But new influenza research in ferrets looks at the possible impact on the general population, and suggests that use of these drugs could lead to a 1-5% increase in cases of the flu.
While there’s definitely more work to be done, just keep in mind that your decision to medicate could affect the people around you, as well. What do you think? What do YOU do when you have a fever?