Brain Massage

Brain Massage

Researchers may be able to improve memory by discharging magnetic pulses on the skull to alter the neural activity at and beneath the brain’s surface

When something goes wrong with neurons located deep in the brain, options for treatment are limited. Directly stimulating the neurons can be effective, but cutting through brain tissue to implant the necessary electrodes is risky. And magnetic or electrical pulses applied to the skull only reach the brain’s outermost regions. But the highly networked nature of the brain presents another possibility: noninvasively alter the activity of the neurons at the brain’s surface to indirectly affect the deeper brain regions they’re connected to.

Following this logic, neuroscientist Joel Voss’s group at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and colleagues performed repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) on subjects who then underwent memory testing. The researchers targeted rTMS to an area at the surface of each participant’s brain that they had determined to have rich and active connections to the more deeply positioned left hippocampus, which is known to be necessary for associative memory. For five days in a row, participants received 1,600 magnetic pulses to the left side of the head, a process that took 20 minutes and produced only a mild tapping sensation on the scalp. Before, during, and after the week of rTMS, the researchers tested the participants’ ability to recall a word paired with a random face, and scanned their brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look for changes in connectivity.


Full story at The Scientist

The Doctor Will See Through You Now

RealView Imaging Ltd., an Israel-based company that develops a 3D holographic display and interface system for use in medical procedures, has recently completed a $10 million investment round led by Chinese firm LongTec China Ventures.

The company’s technology enables doctors to view a real-time 3D hologram of a patient’s anatomy “floating in the air” and interact with it either by stylus or with their hands.

In 2013 the company concluded a clinical study intended to evaluate the use of live 3D holographic imaging in interventional cardiology, in a joint project conducted in collaboration with Philips Healthcare.

As part of this study the company’s system was used in August 2013 in minimally-invasive structural heart procedures at the Schneider Children’s Medical Center in Israel.


A real-time 3D hologram of a patient’s anatomy “floating in the air.”


In one of the procedures it projected a hologram of the pulmonary arteries of the patient, a 2-year-old boy.


Full story on WSJ

Complex jobs ‘may protect memory’

People with mentally taxing jobs, including lawyers and graphic designers, may end up having better memory in old age, research suggests.

A study of more than 1,000 Scottish 70-year-olds found that those who had had complex jobs scored better on memory and thinking tests.

One theory is a more stimulating environment helps build up a “cognitive reserve” to help buffer the brain against age-related decline,

The research was reported in Neurology.

The team, from Heriot-Watt University, in Edinburgh, is now planning more work to look at how lifestyle and work interact to affect memory loss.

Those taking part in the study took tests designed to assess memory, processing speed and general thinking ability, as well as filling in a questionnaire about their working life.


Full story at BBC Health

Could Wine, Chocolate Protect the Heart From Smog?

Could Wine, Chocolate Protect the Heart From Smog?

Researchers say air pollution’s effects lessened in older men who consumed flavonoids, but more research needed

A diet rich in chocolate, wine, fruits and vegetables may help protect people from heart disease caused by air pollution, new research suggests.

The researchers found that elderly men were less likely to experience changes in heart function during heavy smog days if they ate foods loaded with flavonoids, an antioxidant found in plants.

For example, eating about 100 grams of blueberries (about three-quarters of a cup) every day might protect older men from smog-relatedheart disease, said lead researcher Jia Zhong, a doctoral student at the Harvard School of Public Health.

“We as individuals have no regular means to protect ourselves from air pollution,” said Zhong’s mentor, Dr. Andrea Baccarelli, an associate professor of environmental epigenetics at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Here we have a potential avenue where we can protect ourselves.”

Smoggy air can reduce the heart’s ability to vary its rhythm. Reduced heart rate variability has been linked to death from heart attacks and heart disease among older people, Zhong said.

Full Story at WebMD

Electrical brain stimulation beats caffeine – and the effect lasts longer

Half an hour of brain stimulation on sleep-deprived military staff improved their performance twice as much as caffeine


Researchers in the US have used electrical brain stimulation to boost the vigilance of sleep-deprived military personnel working on an airforce base.

Experiments on 18 to 42-year old men and women on active duty found that half an hour of electrical brain stimulation improved their performance twice as much as caffeine, and the effect lasted three times as long.

Scientists at the Air Force Research Laboratory in New Carlisle, Ohio, are exploring the potential of brain stimulation to help analysts who spend hours poring over images to identify military targets.

“In the air force we do a lot of intelligence missions and we have a lot of analysts on the back end who are looking for targets, which can be vehicles, buildings or whatever,” said Andy McKinley, who led the research with Lindsey McIntire, a psychologist at Infoscitex, a technology company in Dayton.

“This type of image analysis task is not well suited to automation. There’s no computer algorithm that can go in and autoselect targets for you, it’s a human endeavour. If we can help people pay attention for long periods of times, that‘s really important,” he added.


Full story at The Guardian

Species-Specific Scientists uncover striking differences between mouse and human gene expression across a variety of tissues.

Mice are widely used to model human metabolism, disease, and drug response. But results published today (November 17) in PNAS reveal widespread differences between human and mouse gene expression, both in protein-coding and noncoding genes, suggesting that understanding these disparities could help explain fundamental differences in the two species’ physiology.

Michael Snyder of Stanford University and his colleagues compared how genes are expressed in 15 different human and mouse tissues, including brain, heart, liver, and kidney. They found that gene expression patterns clustered by species rather than tissues. For example, gene expression in a mouse liver more closely resembled the patterns observed in a mouse heart than those observed in a human liver. Using data from the ENCODE and modENCODE projects, among other sources, the analysis spanned “the most tissue-diverse RNA-seq dataset to date,” the authors wrote in their paper.

The results “go a little against the grain,” said bioinformatician Mark Gerstein of Yale University who was not involved in the study. “We might think that humans and mice are very similar [genetically], but when we compare their transcriptomes, they’re more different than we thought.”


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AMP Members Reiterate Position on LDT Regulation; Questions to FDA Suggest Confusion Remain


AMP Members Reiterate Position on LDT Regulation; Questions to FDA Suggest Confusion Remain

By Molika Ashford

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. (GenomeWeb) — At the annual meeting of the Association for Molecular Pathology here this week, attendees gathered for a question and answer session with US Food and Drug Administration officials Alberto Gutierrez and Elizabeth Mansfield, who fielded 45 minutes of queries on the scope and details of the FDA’s draft guidance on the regulation of laboratory developed tests.

AMP also kicked off the meeting with a major lobbying push, as a cadre of members descended on Capitol Hill on Wednesday to educate legislators on what they believe would be an overwhelmingly negative impact of FDA regulation on the molecular diagnostics industry and the patients it serves.

AMP has taken a clear stance that the majority of lab-developed tests should continue operating under CLIA and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and not be subject to premarket review by the FDA. Central to the group’s opposition to FDA oversight is an assertion that LDTs, at least many of them, are not medical devices, but rather laboratory procedures.

The ability, especially of small labs, to develop tests in house and customize them to their own associated clinical practice is integral to effective patient care, members argued at the meeting. If every new iteration must be individually submitted and approved by the FDA, labs simply cannot and will not continue to develop and customize assays in this way. According to association members, this will negatively affect patients.

However, even amidst the association’s united opposition, many meeting attendees demonstrated lingering confusion about numerous practical aspects of the FDA’s proposed guidance, including how it will determine a test’s risk classification, which establishes whether and how soon a lab must submit it for FDA review.

The LDT draft guidance is currently open for public comment. The agency has allowed 120 days, longer than usual, to allow extra leeway around the holiday season.


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Cambridge Biomedical presentation on LDT

Enhanced enhancers

The recent discovery of super-enhancers may offer new drug targets for a range of diseases


To understand disease processes, scientists often focus on unraveling how gene expression in disease-associated cells is altered. Increases or decreases in transcription—as dictated by a regulatory stretch of DNA called an enhancer, which serves as a binding site for transcription factors and associated proteins—can produce an aberrant composition of proteins, metabolites, and signaling molecules that drives pathologic states. Identifying the root causes of these changes may lead to new therapeutic approaches for many different diseases.

Although few therapies for human diseases aim to alter gene expression, the outstanding examples—including antiestrogens for hormone-positive breast cancer, antiandrogens for prostate cancer, and PPAR-γ agonists for type 2 diabetes—demonstrate the benefits that can be achieved through targeting gene-control mechanisms.  Now, thanks to recent papers from laboratories at MIT, Harvard, and the National Institutes of Health, researchers have a new, much bigger transcriptional target: large DNA regions known as super-enhancers or stretch-enhancers. Already, work on super-enhancers is providing insights into how gene-expression programs are established and maintained, and how they may go awry in disease.  Such research promises to open new avenues for discovering medicines for diseases where novel approaches are sorely needed.


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