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Personal Music Playlists May Reduce Medication Use With Dementia

Nursing home residents with dementia who listen to a personalized music playlist may need less psychotropic medication and have improved behavior, a recent study suggests.

The individualized music program designed for nursing homes, called Music and Memory, didn’t improve mood problems, but patients who listened to music tailored to their tastes and memories did need less anti-anxiety and anti-psychotic medication, researchers found.

“Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias can result in aggressive or other difficult behaviors, which affect people’s lives and take a toll on their caregivers,” said lead author Kali Thomas, an assistant professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.
“We think that familiar music may have a calming or pleasurable effect and reduce the need for caregivers to use medications to control dementia behaviors,” Thomas told Reuters Health by email.

The potential of this kind of intervention was illustrated in the 2014 documentary “Alive Inside,” which shows nursing home residents with dementia moving, singing and engaging with others while listening to their favorite music, the study team writes in American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

But the effects have never been tested to see if the intervention is evidence-based, the authors write.

To determine what the program accomplishes, the researchers implemented Music and Memory in 98 nursing homes with a total of about 13,000 residents with Alzheimer’s disease or non-Alzheimer’s dementia and followed a roughly equal number of residents with dementia in 98 nursing homes without the program for comparison.

In the Music and Memory program, nursing home staff are trained to create music playlists for residents based on each patient’s personal history and music preferences.

At the start of the study in 2012, the researchers used records to assess patients’ behavioral problems, depressed mood and their use of ant-anxiety and anti-psychotic medications. The same assessments were done in 2013, after the experiment was over.

Among the facilities included in the music program, the typical proportion of residents who discontinued anti-psychotic medications in a six-month period was 17.6 percent prior to the program’s implementation, and rose to 20.1 percent after the program. In the comparison homes without the program, this proportion remained stable at about 15 percent.

Similarly, the proportion of people discontinuing anti-anxiety medications rose from 23.5 percent to 24.4 percent, while in the comparison group discontinuation rates dropped from 25 percent to 20 percent over the same period.

Nursing homes using the music program also reported greater improvements in residents’ behavior. The proportion of residents with reduced dementia-related behavioral problems rose from 51 percent to 57 percent, while the comparison group remained the same.

The cost of the program depends on the size of the facility and ranges from $250 to $1,000 for staff training, plus $200 per year for program support, the authors note. Some participants also receive a “starter kit” including an iPod for their music, or ask family members to provide them with an iPod to use in the program.

The benefits of music for people with dementia go beyond behavior management, said Orii McDermott, a senior research fellow at the University of Nottingham in the UK, who was not involved in the study.

“Sharing favorite music or taking part in music activities offer social opportunities for people with dementia,” said McDermott, adding that social interaction is extremely important because the progression of dementia often leads to isolation.
“For busy care home staff, finding out each resident’s preferred music may feel like a time consuming task,” McDermott said. However, “people with dementia find individualized music interventions meaningful and improve their quality of life – so it will be a time well spent in the long run,” she noted.
“The population of older adults with dementia, in particular those residing in nursing homes, is large and is growing,” Thomas said. “This study suggests that Music and Memory may be one intervention that holds promise.”

By Madeline Kennedy     Fri May 19, 2017     Reuters Health
SOURCE:    bit.ly/2pEIEhN       American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, online April 14, 2017          www.reuters.com


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Still Cooking with Aluminum Foil? You’ll Want to Read This

Cooking and baking with aluminum foil is fast and convenient, and makes cleanup a cinch, but it’s not without health risks.

A lot has changed since aluminum arrived on the scene back in 1910, after the first aluminum foil rolling plant, Dr. Lauber, Neher & Cie, opened in Emmishofen, Switzerland. The first use of foil in the United States came about in 1913, when it was used to wrap Life Savers, candy bars, and gum. Eventually, aluminum foil made its way into American kitchens as a way to bake fish or roast vegetables on the barbecue, to line baking pans, and to trap steam when cooking.

And we’re using tons of it—so much that experts are getting concerned. Because according to research, some of the foil used in cooking, baking, and grilling leaches into your food, which can pose health problems over time.

According to the World Health Organization, human bodies are capable of properly releasing small amounts of aluminum efficiently, so it’s considered safe to ingest 40mg per kilogram of body weight of aluminum per day. Unfortunately, most people are ingesting far more than this.

Scientists have been looking at the potential threat that overexposure to aluminum may have on human health for years, and have found some disturbing results. For example, researchers have found high concentrations of aluminum in the brain tissue of patients with Alzheimer’s disease. Studies have also found that high aluminum intake may be linked to a reduction in the growth rate of human cells, and may be potentially harmful for patients with bone diseases or renal impairment.

A 2012 study published in the International Journal of Electrochemical Science investigated the amount of aluminum that leaches into food cooked with foil. The amount varied based on factors such as temperature and acidity (fish and tomatoes are highly acidic), but the findings showed conclusively that aluminum foil does leach into food cooked in foil. “Aluminum foil used in cooking provides an easy channel for the metal to enter the human body,” the study authors wrote. “The increase in cooking temperature causes more leaching. The leaching is also highly dependent on the pH value of the food solution, salt, and spices added to the food solutions.”

Ghada Bassioni, Associate Professor and Head of the Chemistry Division at Ain Shams University, conducted research with a group of colleagues that explored the use of aluminum for cooking and preparing food particularly at high temperatures. “The acidity of the food would enhance further leaching of aluminum into the meal,” she said, adding: “How aluminum will actually harm your body depends on many factors like your overall well-being and consequently how much your body can handle accumulation of it in relation to the allowable dosages set by the World Health Organization.”

So should you stop cooking with aluminum foil? It seems the general consensus is that we should, at the very least, cut way back.

For grilling veggies, you can get a stainless steel grilling basket, or even reusable skewers. Use a glass pan when roasting veggies in the oven; use a stainless steel cookie sheet under baking potatoes as opposed to aluminum foil to catch the mess; and even try replacing foil with banana leaves when wrapping foods for baking!

BY ALEXA ERICKSON
 
source: www.rd.com


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A Cup of Tea a Day Could Keep Dementia and Alzheimer’s Away

Tea is one of the most widely consumed and healthiest beverages of all—perhaps only second to plain old water. Known to provide a variety of health benefits, such as decreasing the risk of cancer and heart disease, there’s now new evidence to suggest that older individuals who regularly drink tea may significantly reduce their risk of cognitive decline.

A study from the National University of Singapore, which involved nearly 1,000 community-living Chinese adults ages 55 or older, looked at tea consumption data from 2003 to 2005. The study participants also underwent cognitive assessments every two years up until 2010.

After controlling for lifestyle factors, medical conditions, physical activities and social activities, the researchers found that regular consumption of tea — specifically the types of tea brewed from tea leaves — was linked to a 50 percent reduced risk of cognitive decline. And in those who carried the gene responsible for the risk of Alzheimer’s disease, there was an 86 percent reduction in cognitive decline.

Feng Lui, assistant professor and lead researcher of the study pointed out that the cognitive benefits come from the bioactive compounds found in tea leaves, such as anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, which may help prevent vascular damage and neurodegeneration in the brain. Given how much of a mystery the brain still is to scientists everywhere, a lot more research is needed to gain a better understanding of these complex biological mechanisms.

This certainly isn’t the first study to suggest that tea is great for brain health. Green tea, in fact, is widely known for its cognitive benefits with previous research showing it has a particularly significant effect on working memory.

While there’s still more than we could imagine to be discovered in the field of brain science, it’s likely safe to say that drinking tea regularly (perhaps daily) is a good habit for almost anyone, young or old, who is healthy and doesn’t have any medical conditions that may conflict with certain types of tea. As mentioned previously, tea brewed from tea leaves are best — including green tea, oolong tea and black tea.

Ready to start drinking more tea for the long-term health benefits? Here are a few ways you can make it a daily habit:

  • Compliment your morning cup of coffee with an additional cup of tea. Go for black or oolong tea varieties if you’re looking for higher amounts of caffeine compared to other types.
  • Bring tea long with you on your commute. All you need is a reusable travel mug and a few minutes before you head off to allow your tea to steep.
  • Wind down before bed with a cup of tea. Try loose leaf, herbal tea varieties that are free of caffeine to help you relax and prepare for a good night’s sleep.
  • Make your own iced tea for when you need something refreshing. Hot tea is lovely, but maybe not so much when the weather is warm and you need to cool off.

 

By: Elise Moreau        March 25, 2017
Follow Elise at @elisem0reau
 


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Targeting Gut Bacteria May Be The Key To Preventing Alzheimer’s

Diet could be a powerful mode of prevention.

A new study suggests that a gut-healthy diet may play a powerful role in preventing one of the most feared diseases in America.

Mounting research continues to show the links between the health of the gut and that of the brain. Now, a new study from Lund University in Sweden finds that unhealthy intestinal flora can accelerate the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

The report, published Feb. 8 in the journal Scientific Reports, demonstrates that mice with Alzheimer’s have a different gut bacterial profile than those that do not have the disease.

The gut microbiome is highly responsive to dietary and lifestyle factors. This suggests that a gut-healthy diet may play a powerful role in preventing one of the most feared diseases in America.

“Alzheimer’s is a preventable disease and in the near future we will likely be able to give advice on what to eat to prevent it,” study author Dr. Frida Fak Hållenius, associate professor at the university’s Food for Health Science Centre, told The Huffington Post. “Take care of your gut bacteria, by eating lots of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables.”

In the new study, Hållenius and her colleagues revealed a direct causal association between gut bacteria and signs of Alzheimer’s in mice. When a group of bacteria-free mice were colonized with the bacteria of rodents with Alzheimer’s, they developed brain plaques indicative of Alzheimer’s. When the bacteria-free mice were colonized with the bacteria of the healthy rodents, however, they developed significantly fewer brain plaques.

Beta-amyloid plaques between nerve cells in the brain are a central marker of the disease. These sticky protein clumps accumulate between the brain’s neurons, disrupting signals and contributing to the gradual killing off of nerve cells.

“We don’t yet know how bacteria can affect brain pathology, we are currently investigating this,” Hållenius said. “We think that bacteria may affect regulatory T-cells in the gut, which can control inflammatory processes both locally in the gut and systemically ― including the brain.”

The contributions of microbes to multiple aspects of human physiology and neurobiology in health and disease have up until now not been fully appreciated.

The gut microbiome is intimately connected with the immune system, since many of the body’s immune cells are found in this area of the stomach, Hållenius added.

Anything that happens in the digestive tract can affect the immune system, she explained. “By changing the gut microbiota composition, you affect the immune system of the host to a large extent.”

The findings suggest that Alzheimer’s may be more more preventable than health experts previously thought. The composition of bacteria in the gut is determined by a mix of genetics and lifestyle factors. Diet, exercise, stress and toxin exposure all play a huge role in the gut’s bacterial makeup.

Now, the researchers can begin investigating ways to prevent the disease and delay its onset by targeting gut bacteria early on. And in the meantime, anyone can adopt a plant-based, whole foods diet and probiotic supplementation as a way to improve the health of their microbiome.

“The diet shapes the microbial community in the gut to a large extent, so dietary strategies will be important in prevention of Alzheimer’s,” Hållenius said. “We are currently working on food design that will modulate the gut microbiota towards a healthier state.”

The study is far from the first to show a connection between gut bacteria and Alzheimer’s. In a 2014 paper published in the journal Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, researchers listed 10 different ways that the microbiome may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease, including fungal and bacterial infections in the intestinal tract and increased permeability of the blood-brain barrier.

“The contributions of microbes to multiple aspects of human physiology and neurobiology in health and disease have up until now not been fully appreciated,” that study’s authors wrote.

By Carolyn Gregoire      Feb 21, 2017
 


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Coffee vs. Tea: Is One Better for Your Health?

A hot cup of coffee can perk you up in the morning. A soothing cup of tea can help you relax after a stressful day. And the latest research about the health benefits of each might help you feel a little better about them, whichever beverage you drink.

After years of studies that seemed to swing between dire warnings and cheery promises about what our favorite caffeinated beverages do and don’t do, much of the recent science regarding coffee and tea is generally positive.

The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer recently took coffee off its list of suspected carcinogens, and some research suggests it could help keep colon cancer from coming back after treatment. Other studies suggest drinking coffee might stave off Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.

Various studies have pointed to tea drinkers having lower odds of skin, breast, and prostate cancers. Researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact ways that happens. But tea, particularly green tea, is rich in compounds like antioxidants, which can limit cell damage and boost the immune system; and polyphenols, which have been shown to lower blood pressure and cholesterol. It also may help stave off Alzheimer’s disease through a polyphenol known as EGCG, which prevents the formation of plaques that are linked to that brain-damaging illness.

Is one better for you than the other?

Experts say that’s hard to say. That’s because it’s difficult to separate out their different ingredients, their role in your diet, and their effects on different body systems.

“I think people are looking at both coffee and tea and how they affect everything, including cancer and GI disease and cardiovascular diseases,” says Elliott Miller, MD, a critical care medicine specialist at the National Institutes of Health.

Miller and his colleagues recently looked at signs of heart disease in more than 6,800 people from different backgrounds across the country. About 75% drank coffee, while about 40% reported drinking tea. Drinking more than one cup of tea regularly was linked to less buildup of calcium in arteries that supply blood to the heart, a development that can lead to heart disease.

Coffee didn’t have an effect either way on heart disease, but that was significant in itself, Miller says.

“Very often patients will ask their doctors, ‘Hey, doc, I’ve got coronary artery disease, or I’ve got risk factors like high blood pressure or cholesterol. Is it safe for me to drink coffee?’ Because everyone thinks drinking coffee makes your heart excited and is potentially bad,” Miller says. “So finding that it’s neutral, I think, is pretty important.”

Researchers say it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how both drinks affect health. Both coffee and tea are “complex beverages” that contain a variety of ingredients. They include caffeine, polyphenols, and antioxidants – compounds researchers are studying for their potential cancer-fighting properties, says Lisa Cimperman, a clinical dietitian at University Hospitals Case Medical Center.

“It’s more of a dynamic interaction than one single compound,” Cimperman says. Some people have tried to isolate one element in tea or coffee that they think is the secret to one effect or another, “and then they realize that it doesn’t have the same effect.”

 © Johnfoto | Dreamstime.com © Johnfoto | Dreamstime.com Title: Coffee mug Description: Coffee mug on white background. Photo taken on: December 21st, 2010 * ID: * 17527982 * Level: * 3 * Views : * 252 * Downloads: * 17 * Model released: * NO * Content filtered: * NO Keywords (Report | Suggest) bean beverage breakfast cafe ceramic coffee cup drink handle hot mug relax

Cimperman said drinking tea has been linked to lower risks of cancer and heart disease, improved weight loss, and a stronger immune system. Meanwhile, studies point to coffee as a potential way to head off not just Parkinson’s but type 2 diabetes, liver disease, and heart problems, Cimperman says.

Another recent study, led by Charles Fuchs, MD, director of the Gastrointestinal Cancer Center at Boston’s Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, found regular coffee drinking may help prevent colon cancer from coming back after treatment.

In his study of nearly 1,000 patients, Fuchs says, there was a “significant and linear” association between drinking coffee and lower risk of colon cancer returning in those who drank four or more cups a day. “The more coffee they drank, the lower risk of recurrence.” But the researchers aren’t clear on which element of the drink contributed to that result, and there didn’t seem to be any effect from drinking tea, he says.

“I think you can have two or more cups a day without any concern, and certainly that may benefit you,” Fuchs says. But what about for those who don’t drink coffee? “If it was somebody who hates the stuff and asks, ‘Should I drink it?’ I’d say no. I’d counsel them about diet and exercise and avoiding obesity as measures I think would have a similar benefit.”

Other researchers are asking questions about what role genetics and lifestyle play into the effects of drinking coffee or tea. For instance, coffee and cigarettes once went together like … well, like coffee and cigarettes, which cause cancer and heart disease.

Some people’s bodies process coffee differently than others, says Martha Gulati, MD, head of cardiology at the University of Arizona College of Medicine in Phoenix. Meanwhile, a preference for tea over coffee might reflect other healthier behaviors, she says.

“Does someone who drinks tea do yoga or meditation more?” Gulati says. “I’m not necessarily saying they’re associated, but do they exercise more? Are they drinking things like green tea to maintain their weight better than other types of drinks?”

And Robert Eckel, MD, an endocrinologist at the University of Denver, says an overall heart-healthy diet is “probably the most important aspect” of preventing heart disease.

“We’re talking about fruits and vegetables, whole grains, lean poultry, fish, legumes, nuts, and avoiding saturated fat. That nutritional message is unchanging,” Eckel says.

There are other variables. The WHO’s ruling on coffee nonetheless cautioned that any kind of extremely hot drinks could raise the risk of esophageal cancer, while Cimperman says dumping a lot of cream and sugar into your drink can blunt any benefits.

“No one beverage or food will make or break your diet,” she says. “The quality of your diet is always the sum of all the parts.”

By Matt Smith      Dec. 23, 2016         WebMD Health News Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

Sources:
International Agency for Research on Cancer: “Evaluation of drinking coffee, maté, and very hot beverages.”
American Journal of Medicine: “Associations of Coffee, Tea, and Caffeine Intake with Coronary Artery Calcification and Cardiovascular Events.”
Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease: “Caffeine as a protective factor in dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.”
News release, American Academy of Neurology.
Journal of Clinical Oncology: “Coffee Intake, Recurrence, and Mortality in Stage III Colon Cancer: Results From CALGB 89803 (Alliance).”
National Cancer Institute: “Tea and cancer prevention.”
Current Pharmaceutical Design: “Reported Effects of Tea on Skin, Prostate, Lung and Breast Cancer in Humans.”
Critical Reviews in Food and Science Nutrition: “Tea and its consumption: benefits and risks.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Catechin- and caffeine-rich teas for control of body weight in humans.”
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Tea and flavonoid intake predict osteoporotic fracture risk in elderly Australian women: a prospective study.”
The Journal of Nutrition: “Coffee and tea consumption are inversely associated with mortality in a multiethnic urban population.”
The Journal of Nutrition: “Effect of increased tea consumption on oxidative DNA damage among smokers: a randomized controlled study.”
The Journal of Nutrition: “Black Tea Consumption Reduces Total and LDL Cholesterol in Mildly Hypercholesterolemic Adults.”
Diabetes Journals: “Coffee, Caffeine, and Risk of Type 2 Diabetes.”
European Journal of Gastroenterology & Hepatology: “Coffee consumption and risk of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis.”
Circulation: “Long-Term Coffee Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease.”
Journal of Clinical Oncology: Coffee Intake, Recurrence, and Mortality in Stage III Colon Cancer: Results From CALGB 89803 (Alliance).”
Neurotoxicology:  “Onset and progression factors in Parkinson’s disease: A systematic review.”
Nature: “Effect of green tea consumption on blood pressure: A meta-analysis of 13 randomized controlled trials.”
Elliott Miller, MD, critical care medicine specialist, National Institutes of Health.
Lisa Cimperman, dietitian, Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Robert Eckel, MD, former president, American Heart Association; University of Colorado School of Medicine.
Martha Gulati, MD, head of cardiology, University of Arizona College of Medicine, Phoenix.Charles Fuchs, director, Gastrointestinal Cancer Center, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston.


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This Type of Exercise May Guard Against Dementia

People who worked out on a bike, a treadmill, or the elliptical showed improvement in their memory and problem solving skills after six months, a new study found.

Working out is good for you in more ways than we can count, but a new study may have uncovered a new perk for people with memory problems.

Researchers from the Wake Forest School of Medicine found that aerobic exercise appears to boost thinking skills and brain volume in adults diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment, a condition that sits in between normal age-related memory decline and more serious dementia. Stretching routines also increased brain volume over a six-month period, but had no noticeable impact on brain function.

The study was presented today at an annual meeting of radiologists in Chicago, and hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed or published.

Researchers used a new MRI technique to measure both volume and shape changes in specific areas of the brain, which are both important indicators for tracking the development of dementia.

At the start of the study, the researchers performed MRI scans on 35 people with mild cognitive impairment, which is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. The participants were then divided into two groups and assigned to four weekly sessions of either stretching exercises or aerobic activity—walking on a treadmill, cycling on a stationary bike, or training on an elliptical machine. After six months, the researchers did a second MRI scan and compared the two sets of scans.

aerobic_exercise_at_gym

Both groups showed increases in most gray matter regions of the brain, including the temporal lobe, which supports short-term memory. But those increases were greater in the group that walked, pedaled, or spent time on the elliptical.

“Even over a short period of time, we saw aerobic exercise lead to a remarkable change in the brain,” said lead investigator Laura D. Baker, PhD, associate professor of gerontology and geriatric medicine at Wake Forest, in a press release.

People in the stretching group had less total brain volume increase, and their brain scans also showed signs of “directional deformation”—shape changes possibly related to volume loss—within the brain’s white matter. The researchers believe these hard-to-detect signs could be early indicators of dementia. “Directional changes in the brain without local volume changes could be a novel biomarker for neurological disease,” co-author Jeongchul Kim, PhD, said in a press release.

In an abstract presented at the conference, the researchers concluded that aerobic exercise “could preserve or possibly even improve brain volumes” in people with early cognitive problems.

What’s more, the researchers also reported that over a six-month period, participants in the aerobic exercise group improved in tests that measure executive function—a set of thinking processes that include working memory, reasoning, and problem solving—while the stretching group showed no change.

That doesn’t mean stretching didn’t help in some way, the authors say, especially when compared to completely sedentary behavior. It does suggest, however, that aerobic activity may be a better bet for overall brain functioning.

Plenty of previous research has tied exercise to better brain outcomes in older adults; a 2014 Canadian study, for example, found that brisk walking (but not resistance training, balance exercises, or muscle toning) was associated with enlargement of the hippocampus. Aerobic exercise may have some competition when it comes to brain health, however. Last month, an Australian study found that women who lifted weights regularly had better cognitive function than those who did regular stretching and calisthenics.

This newest study, although small and preliminary, is in line with previous research suggesting that “any type of exercise can be beneficial,” said Kim—good news for older adults who perhaps can’t get out and walk, ride, or otherwise break a sweat. However, he added, “If possible, aerobic activity may create potential benefits for higher cognitive functioning.”

 

 By Amanda MacMillan      November 30, 2016


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Where Neuroscience is Making the Impossible, Possible

Glimpse a revolutionary future enabled by neuroscience

Recently, while preparing to deliver a TED talk on Broadway, “What Will Be the Next Big Scientific Breakthrough?,” I thought a lot about the impossible.

Once, human flight was impossible. Instant communication anywhere, anytime was impossible. Leaving Earth was impossible. Seeing farther than the naked eye was impossible.

Scientific revolutions have turned a long list of impossibilities into everyday possibilities. And science is far from finished transforming absurd fantasies into everyday realties.

Nowhere is this more true than with neuroscience.

Thanks to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we can already see living brains think, we can relieve Parkinson’s tremors with the flip of a switch through brain implants, and we can beam thoughts instantly across the planet from one person to another via sensitive scalp probes and superconducting brain stimulators.

Where is neuroscience poised to elevate the art of the possible and change our lives?

Here are three of the most tantalizing possibilities. Some of these seem far-fetched at best and absurd at worst, but that is always true of revolutionary advances just before they happen. Physicians thought Ignaz Semelweiss was insane for believing microbes caused disease. Ditto for Wegener who postulated that continents drift and for Barry Marshall, who argued that the bug h pylori causes ulcers. The list of insane ideas that ultimately proved correct goes on and on: a meteor wiped out the dinosaurs, humans descended from primitive species, Earth revolves around the sun.

Buckle your seat belts for a wild ride through a (possibly) revolutionary future, brought to you courtesy of modern neuroscience. Some of this work may fizzle out, but some will dynamite our concept of what is impossible.

  • Implanting and triggering false memories. MIT neuroscientists Liu and Ramirez (see TED talk) injected mice with nanoscopic optical switches that are absorbed by neurons in the hippocampus while the neurons are form new memories. The MIT scientists then trained these mice to fear a particular environment through mild shocks. Using implanted lasers to turn on optical switches can excite the same hippocampal neurons that recently formed the “fear” memories. Liu and Ramirez got mice to “replay” fear memories in new environments that the rodents had no reason to fear. This was an astonishing accomplishment at multiple levels. Tagging and identifying nerve cells that hold specific memories was once thought to be impossible. Selectively activating such a small population of neurons to replay the memories was believed to be even more improbable.

Why should we care?

If this technique were to work in humans, it might be possible to create and stimulate positive memories to overwrite bad memories, such as those of PTSD sufferers. Or, as Steve Ramirez himself has speculated, perhaps we can someday erase the pain of bad romances!

brain

 

  • Bring the dead back to life. Recent advances in stimulating growth of new brain cells using stem cell implants, genetic switches, and other tricks, raise the possibility of reviving patients who are clinically “brain dead.” Through the “ReAnima” project, biotech companies BioQuark and Revita Life Sciences received approval to attempt to revive 20 patients declared brain dead using a combination of peptides and mRNA that stimulate new nerve growth, stem cell implants, optical and electromagnetic brain stimulation, and other techniques to kickstart stalled brains. Finally, cryopreservation of brain tissue shows some promise in cats, rodents, and other mammalian species. For example, cat brains frozen for years, then carefully thawed, exhibit measurable neural activity. Perhaps, someday, even after brains “die” they can be frozen and later brought back to some semblance of  life.

Why should we care?

Apart from giving new hope to deep coma victims and their families, the combination of neural regeneration and revitalization techniques could help treat Alzheimers, Parkinson and stroke patients. The methods may even restore healthy “older” brains to youthful vigor. And the possibility that we might succumb to an incurable disease, be frozen (or preserved some other way), and later be resurrected when the disease becomes curable, cannot be completely ruled out. It sounds crazy and probably is crazy, but based on the cryo-neuroscience, I would never say such a thing is impossible.

  • Making animals as smart as humans. Rash and colleagues at Yale University discovered that they could make embryonic mouse brains more human-like by delivering fibroblast growth factor to the animals’ developing brains. Rash succeeded in inducing mice brains to develop gyri and sulci typical of more “advanced” mammals such as cats, monkeys, and humans. As shown in the photo, mouse brains are normally smooth, lacking the complex folds that allow human brains to pack in hundreds of billions of neurons into a small volume. But Dr. Rash induced “gyrification” in mouse brains that gave these normally unfolded brains folds. Other researchers have achieved similar results by activating the Trnp1 gene in mice (a gene shared with humans) permitting embryonic rodent brains to develop and grow longer than they normally would.

Why should we care?

I am not eager to have a pet mouse or dog that is as smart—or even smarter—than I am. I like  dogs who are loving, uncomplicated, and not prone to argue with me about when to take a walk.  But, if the early promise of “induced gyrification” pans out, someone is bound to create smarter animals to perform tasks that were once the sole province of humans. This will reduce payroll costs, employee medical insurance costs, and get around unions (unless the newly intelligent creatures decide to unionize, demand the right to vote and so forth). Perhaps we will need smarter humans just to cope with the smarter animals we create!

This raises a question: if increased gyrification produces smarter animals, why not smarter humans? Countries wishing to field smarter soldiers, or smarter scientists might be tempted to turbocharge human brains.

Taken together, if all three of these impossible neuroscience advances make the impossible possible, what will our future hold?

  • Can we learn new things simply by going to a memory salon for treatments?
  • Can we regrow lost brain tissue and recover from “incurable” neurodegenerative diseases?
  • Can we come back to life after leaving it?
  • Can we discuss Proust and Goethe with our Labrador retriever and seek his opinion on our troubled relationships?
  • Can we ask this same canine where he believes science will next make the impossible, possible

 Possibly!

To have more fun with neuroscience, learn more about my new book, Brain Candy.

References


https://www.ted.com/talks/steve_ramirez_and_xu_liu_a_mouse_a_laser_beam_…
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Xu Liu,† Steve Ramirez,† and Susumu Tonegawa, Inception of a false memory by optogenetic manipulation of a hippocampal memory engram
Negishi T, Ishii Y, Kawamura S, Kuroda Y, Yoshikawa Y. Cryopreservation of brain tissue for primary culture. Exp Anim. 2002;51:383–390. doi: 10.1538/expanim.51.383
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Trnp1 Regulates Expansion and Folding of the Mammalian Cerebral Cortex by Control of Radial Glial Fate Ronny Stahl,Tessa Walcher, Camino De Juan Romero,5 Gregor Alexander Pilz,3 Silvia Cappello,3 Martin Irmhttp://www.cell.com/abstract/S0092-8674(13)00349-8
http://www.jneurosci.org/content/33/26/10802.full
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http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/can-pill-make-you-smarter-brave-…
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https://www.theguardian.com/science/2014/nov/20/brain-damage-nerve-cells…
http://www.mayo.edu/research/centers-programs/center-regenerative-medici…
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2016/05/03/dead-could-be-brought-back…
http://www.alcor.org/Library/html/caseforcryonics.html 
Trnp1 Regulates Expansion and Folding of the Mammalian Cerebral Cortex by Control of Radial Glial Fate, Ronny Stahl et al
Cytotechnology. 2015 May; 67(3): 419–426.
Freshly frozen E18 rat cortical cells can generate functional neural networks after standard cryopreservation and thawing proceduresKim Quasthoff, Stefano Ferrea, Wiebke Fleischer, Stephan Theiss, Alfons Schnitzler, Marcel Dihné, and Janine Walter [Description: orresponding author]

Eric Haseltine Ph.D. Eric Haseltine Ph.D.      Long Fuse, Big Bang      Jul 09, 2016