Daydream believer: A way to predict whether coma patients will awaken?
A new study says that doctors may be able to predict the fate of comatose patients in minutes if they tap into the activity in a brain network linked to daydreaming. Researchers at the University of Liège in Belgium reported at a conference in France this week that a study of 13 patients in comas of varying degrees indicated that those with the most activity in these pathways (in the cortex, or brain processing center) had suffered the least brain damage and thereby were most likely to recover if given the correct treatment. Researchers told the New Scientist the findings show that physicians may one day be able to scan these areas to predict whether comatose patients will regain consciousness.
Cold turkey: Brain protein slams the brakes on alcoholism
Scientists at the University of California, San Francisco, report that increasing the levels of a protein in the brain may help alcoholics kick drinking in a heartbeat—and keep them from falling off the wagon. The researchers report in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA that rats lost interest in alcoholic beverages within 10 minutes of being injected with the protein known as glial cell line–derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF). The U.C. San Francisco team had previously shown that upping levels of GDNF into a part of the brain associated with drug addiction (the ventral tegmental area) dramatically curtailed the animals' habits. But they had no clue it would work as quickly as this experiment showed. "Our findings open the door to a promising new strategy to combat alcohol abuse, addiction and especially relapse," neurologist and study co-author Dorit Ron told the London newspaper the Telegraph, adding that 70 percent of people who kick alcoholism get hooked again within five years.
Pop Quiz: Q.—The U.S. lags in science and technology A.—False
As nations such as China and India increased their global science and technology presence over the past few decade, researchers have groused that the U.S. was in danger of losing its edge. But a new report says their worries are for naught. Analysts at the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank say the U.S. not only spends more than any other nation on research and development, but this spending is growing faster than that of the European Union and Japan. Based on 2003 data, RAND says the U.S. also registered several thousand more new patents than the E.U. and Japan, and that China and India weren't even close. RAND also found that the U.S. is the world's leading publisher of scientific journals and magazines and that Americans spend nearly twice as much pursuing graduate degrees in the science and related fields as other industrialized nations. But RAND warns this doesn't mean the U.S. should rest on its laurels. To wit: U.S. elementary and middle schoolers hold their own in math and science, RAND reports, but high school students on average perform worse.
Bionic hand smacks down competition for engineering award
A bionic hand with individual motors in each finger and a lifelike, opposable thumb this week took home the 2008 Royal Academy of Engineering MacRobert Award. In claiming the top prize, the motorized hand beat out Polar, a robotic system used by the U.K. Biobank to manage millions of biological samples in subzero temperatures; a technology developed by Johnson Matthey for controlling soot emissions from diesel cars; and an, Owlstone Ltd. dime-size chemical sensor on a silicon chip that detects trace amounts of a variety of chemicals. Touch Bionics' i-LIMB Hand is the first commercially available bionic hand; 200 people, including U.S. soldiers who lost limbs during the war in Iraq, have so far been fitted with it. The hand does not have to be surgically attached; instead, it uses two electrodes that sit on the skin to pick up electrical impulses created by the contraction of muscle fibers in the body. The i-LIMB will be on display at the Science Museum in London until September.