- 5 Ways Scientists Are Hacking the Brain to Cure Disease, Improve Memory & Increase Libido.
- New research involves a lot of different ways to affect the brain: drugs, electrical signals, and, yes, actually shining light on neurons.
- The brain is a castle on a hill. Encased in bone and protected by a special layer of cells, it is shielded from infections and injuries. But also from many pharmaceuticals and even from the body’s own immune defenses. As a result, brain problems are tough to diagnose and to treat.
- To meet this challenge, researchers are exploring unconventional therapies, from electrodes to laser-light stimulation to mind-bending drugs. Some of these radical experiments may never pan out. But, as frequently happens in medicine, a few of today’s improbable approaches may evolve into tomorrow’s miraculous cures.
- “Cyborg” is a science-fictional shorting of “cybernetic organism”. The idea is that, in the near future, we may have more and more artificial body parts – arms, legs, hearts, eyes – and digital computing and communication supplements. The logical conclusion is that one might become a brain in a wholly artificial body. And the step after that is to replace your meat brain by a computer brain.
- In a sense, cyborgs already walk among us: Nearly 200,000 deaf or near-deaf people have cochlear implants, electronic sound-processing machines that stimulate the auditory nerve and link into the brain. But even by the fanciful science fiction definition, the age of cyborgs is just around the corner.
- In the last decade, researchers have become increasingly skilled at detecting and interpreting brain signals. Technologies that allow people to use their thoughts to control machines—computers, speaking devices, or prosthetic limbs—are already being tested and could soon be available for widespread applications.
Mind & Brain / Senses
Your Hidden Sense of Touch
- Nerve cells in our sweat glands and blood vessels may constitute an important, previously unrecognized source of sensory info.
- You are more sensitive than you realize, Neuro-Scientist Frank Rice of Albany Medical College has discovered.
- His study of patients whose skin lacks normal nerve fibers has revealed a previously unknown source of perception that contributes to the familiar ability to feel texture, temperature, pressure, and pain: the nerve endings surrounding blood vessels and sweat glands in human skin.
- Rice, neurologist David Bowsher of the University of Liverpool, and their colleagues were studying two patients who were unable to feel pain, yet somehow retained a rudimentary ability to distinguish hot from cold and rough from smooth.
- On examining skin samples and other biopsies, the researchers found that all of the usual nerve endings associated with skin sensation were missing. The only possible sources of feeling were the nerves of the blood vessels and glands.
- Scientists knew that such nerves existed but thought they simply regulated blood flow and perspiration.
- The evidence from the patients examined by Rice and Bowsher suggests that the nerve cells also act as an additional sensory system. “It is very likely that these nerve endings contribute to conscious perception in all of us,” Rice says.
- If he is correct, problems with this previously unknown system could contribute to poorly understood pain conditions, such as migraines and fibromyalgia. Rice and a group of collaborators are gearing up to investigate this potential link by searching for malformations of the blood-vessel nerves that could affect their function.
New Brain-Protecting Compound Works in Rats; Could Make Alzheimer’s a Distant Memory
Researchers at Texas Southwestern Medical Center have discovered a compound that could potentially render Alzheimer’s a thing of the past. After testing 1,000 different molecules on the memory hubs of rats suffering from memory loss, scientists there have come up with a compound that protects memory-forming cells in the hippocampus, which could lead to promising treatments for Alzheimer’s and other memory affecting disorders.
Scientists Identify a Secret Ingredient in Honey That Kills Bacteria
Honey as an Antibiotic
For those looking for new antibiotics, a new research published in the July 2010 print edition of the FASEB Journal explains for the first time how honey kills bacteria.
Specifically, the research shows that bees make a protein that they add to the honey, called defensin-1, which could one day be used to treat burns and skin infections and to develop new drugs that could combat antibiotic-resistant infections.
Researchers Create the World’s First Fully Synthetic, Self-Replicating Living Cell
- Scientists call it ‘the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer’
- If figuring out how to quickly sequence genomes was but the first small step for genetics, Craig Venter has gone ahead and made a giant leap for the discipline. The J. Craig Venter Institute announced that it has created the world’s first synthetic cell, boasting a completely synthetic chromosome produced by a machine.
- “This is the first self-replicating species we’ve had on the planet whose parent is a computer,” Venter said in a press conference.
- The biological breakthrough could have myriad applications, as it essentially opens the door to engineered biology that is completely manipulated by laboratory scientists. The researchers are already planning to create a specially engineered algae designed to trap carbon dioxide and convert it to biofuel. Other applications could include medicine, environmental cleanup, and energy production.
Newly Discovered Antibody Defeats 91 Percent of HIV Strains
- American researchers are working on three antibodies that may mark a new step on the path toward an HIV vaccine.
- One of the antibodies suppresses 91 percent of HIV strains, more than any AIDS antibody ever discovered, according to a report on the findings published in the Wall Street Journal. The antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 60-year-old African-American gay man whose body produced them naturally. One antibody in particular is substantially different from its precursors, the Science study says.
Can a Pill Keep Your DNA Young?
- The first drug targeting Telomeres, now sold as a nutritional supplement, will soon face the harsh light of peer review.
- The tips of chromosomes could hold the key to youth.
- Telomeres, repeating DNA sequences at the ends of chromosomes that become shorter with each cell division, have long tantalized biologists seeking to understand and control the aging process.
- When its telomeres become too short, a cell stops dividing and eventually dies.
- Stop that process and (just maybe) immortality beckons; hence the frenzy a decade ago when a group of researchers claimed they had figured out how to slow that winding-down.
- Now a second round of frenzy is under way. After years of research, the first telomere-targeting pills have hit the market, while other treatments are entering clinical trials.
- An enzyme called telomerase maintains telomeres in our reproductive and stem cells but not in the rest of the body.
- In 2001 researchers at the biotech giant Geron Corporation isolated a molecule called TA-65 from the herb astragalus, which they said boosted telomerase activity (its effect has not yet been evaluated in published, peer-reviewed studies).
- Geron licensed the product to T.A. Sciences in New York City for development as a nutritional supplement; unlike medications, supplements require no FDA approval.
- A handful of physicians began selling TA-65 pills in 2007, and the company says that clients taking it have reported enhanced athletic, visual, and cognitive performance.
- To back up those claims, T.A. Sciences plans to submit research demonstrating TA-65’s effects on bone density, immune function, and age-related biomarkers for peer-reviewed publication this year.
- The results should help early adopters decide whether the supplement is worth its $8,000-per-year price tag. Sierra Sciences of Reno, Nevada, is also developing possible pharmaceuticals to maintain telomeres. “We now have 35 chemicals sitting in our lab that turn on the telomerase gene,” says CEO Bill Andrews. The company hopes to have an approved drug within 15 years.
Skip a Meal, Extend Your Life
Life-long calorie restriction seems to lead to longer lives
- To stave off aging, Americans spend billions of dollars every year on supplements, gyms, even therapists.
- But a report released in July 2010 suggests that the secret to a longer life may simply involve a new twist on an old adage: Watch what you eat.
- A study of adult rhesus macaques showed that the monkeys were one-third as likely to die from age-related diseases if they consumed 30 percent fewer calories than they did in their regular diet. Previous, well-publicized research had shown that restricting calories can increase the life span of creatures ranging from fruit flies to dogs, for reasons still unclear.
- But the latest trial, led by geriatrics expert Richard Weindruch at the Wisconsin National Primate Research Center and published in Science, is the first to show that caloric restriction can improve survival in primates.
- This kind of research takes enormous patience. Weindruch has spent 20 years studying his monkeys.
- In that time, the dieting ones have shown reductions in diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, and even brain atrophy. They are also visibly fluffier and sturdier compared with their fully fed counterparts. “Slowing the aging process through calorie restriction spills over to primates and probably people,” Weindruch says.
- Pharmaceutical companies are now seeking a drug that mimics the benefits of a restrictive diet without the sacrifice.
- In July an independent team reported in Nature that rapamycin, an immune-suppressing drug, increases longevity in elderly mice by up to 38 percent
- At the Jackson Laboratory in Maine, gerontologist David Harrison and his team chose to test rapamycin, which is already approved for use in procedures such as kidney transplants, because previous research showed that the drug increases the life span of flies and may reduce cancer in mammals. “We’re not claiming to achieve immortality,” Harrison says, “but rapamycin is a step toward expanding healthy life span by about 10 years.”
Simple Massage Relieves Chronic Tension Headache
- Researchers at the University of Granada, in collaboration with the Clinical Hospital San Cecilio and the University Rey Juan Carlos, have shown that the psychological and physiological state of patients with tension headache improves within 24 hours after receiving a 30-minute massage.
- As researchers explained, tension headaches have an increasing incidence in the population.
- This type of disorder is usually treated with analgesics, that relieve symptoms temporarily.
- One of the main causes of this type of headache is the presence of trigger points.
- Recently, new strategies for controlling this disabling pain are being studied.
- Researcher Cristina Toro Velasco, leader of the study, under Professor Manuel Arroyo Morales supervision has shown that a 30-minute massage on cervical trigger points improves autonomic nervous system regulation in these patients.
- Additionally, patients exhibit a better psychological state and “reduce the stress and anxiety associated to such a disturbing disorder.”
- Similarly, patients report a perceived relief from symptoms within 24 hours after the massage.
- This might mean that massages may reduce the pain caused by trigger points, which would involve an improvement in the general state of patients.
- The results of this pioneer study were published in American Journal of Manipulative Physiological and Therapeutics.