Sep 8, 2009 | 39
When hackers want to break into a computer system, they often attempt to reverse engineer the operating software to better understand how it works (and, of course, its vulnerabilities). While researchers have for years taken a similar approach to better understanding parts of our gray matter, neuroscientists now say that within a decade it will be possible to create a digital model that replicates all functions of the human brain.
Though the brain has trillions of synapses, billions of neurons, millions of proteins, and thousands of genes, scientists have already begun to build detailed models of the mouse, rat, cat, primate and human brain, says Henry Markram, director of neuroscience and technology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, where he founded the Brain Mind Institute (BMI) in 2002. One of the keys to furthering this work is cooperation among scientists who are gathering together fragments of information collected over the past century about the how the brain works.
Jul 17, 2009
Orbo Novo, a highly anticipated ballet, premiered in Boston this month. The contemporary dance, designed by esteemed choreographer Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui, is giving audiences a glimpse into the two hemispheres of the brain.
The work may be an extreme exemplification of an ongoing mission by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) to enhance the communication of science for the general public. The two organizations have worked long together on this goal, recently developing a traveling “Communicating Science” workshop, to hone researchers' ability to describe their work in ways non-specialists can grasp.
Apr 20, 2009
Newborns who needed support breathing—either oxygen or chest pumping—had a higher risk of having a lower IQ by age eight, even if they showed no signs of brain disease or impairment, according to a new analysis published online today in The Lancet. Babies who don't start breathing right away or have a low heart rate usually undergo some sort of resuscitation to ensure survival and adequate oxygen flow to the brain to prevent permanent damage.
The new findings are based on a review of the medical records of more than 5,800 babies born in the U.K. between 1991 and 1992. The researchers, from the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Southmead Hospital in Bristol, found that infants who were resuscitated at birth but did not show any symptoms of neonatal cognitive impairment had an absolute risk of 9.8 percent of having a low (80 or below) IQ score, compared with a 6.5 percent risk of the baseline group that didn't need—or receive—resuscitation. Those infants who received resuscitation and were still diagnosed with encephalopathy (brain disease) had a 23 percent absolute risk of having a low IQ by eight years of age.
Apr 6, 2009 | 12
Some of us look for wisdom in the Bible, Plato or at Grandma's knee. Dilip Jeste and his colleague Thomas Meeks are searching for it in the brain.
Jeste and Meeks, both geriatric psychiatrists at the University of California, San Diego, hypothesize in the Archives of General Psychiatry that wisdom, or at least the execution of its attributes, can be found in the brain's primitive limbic system as well as its more evolutionarily advanced prefrontal cortex.
Wisdom for centuries has been a religious or philosophical concept that varies somewhat by culture. But Jeste tells ScientificAmerican.com that there is reason to believe that it's rooted in neurobiology. He and Meeks pored through medical literature, locating 10 papers that defined wisdom. Based on commonalities in the research, the two proposed that wisdom is made up of the behaviors that reflect the good of the group, pragmatism, emotional balance, self-understanding, tolerance and the ability to deal with ambiguity. Then, based on those studies, they zeroed in on which neurotransmitters (the brain's chemical messengers) were active and which parts of the brain light up on functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) when we behave wisely.
Mar 19, 2009 | 7
Actress Natasha Richardson, who died yesterday after a seemingly minor fall on a Canadian ski slope, was killed by blunt trauma to her head, a coroner said today.
Richardson, 45, died of an epidural hematoma, a bleed between the skull and the dura, the lining that covers the brain, New York's medical examiner ruled. Richardson was flown to New York, where she and her husband Liam Neeson, 56, have a home, after Monday's fall. Her death was ruled an accident.
“It can bleed profoundly, causing a clot that expands between the skull and the dura, and you get pressure on the brain,” David Langer, director of cerebrovascular neurosurgery at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, told the New York Times. “It can be quite dramatic. It’s one of the most acute neurological emergencies. It’s one of the few times where it’s life or death, where you can truly save somebody’s life, or they die if you don’t get to them.”
Mar 2, 2009 | 11
A 300 million-year-old fossilized fish brain was discovered during a routine computed tomography (CT) scan, according to a study published today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Until now, scientists assumed that brains rarely—if ever—turned into fossils. Other soft tissue fossils, such as muscles and kidneys, have been found that date back longer than 350 million years ago, but because the brain is delicate and consists mostly of water, it's much less likely to be preserved in fossil form, says study co-author John Maisey, a curator in the paleontology division of the American Museum of Natural History in New York. But "It's more than just a curiosity," he says. "Modern technology has revealed a fossil that we really didn't know about before." High-powered scans using x-ray synchrotron microtomography (which, like a CT, uses x-rays to image cross-sections of an object) allowed scientists to peer into the rock-solid skull to see the 0.06-by-0.28-inch (1.5 by 7 mm) brain.
Feb 19, 2009 | 1
In May 2001, Israeli parents of a nine-year old boy with a crippling disease that left him wheelchair-bound took their child to see doctors in Moscow. In a highly experimental procedure that was presumably unavailable in their home country, those doctors injected fetal stem cells into various regions of his brain.
The boy’s parents—they aren’t named in a report describing the case in this week’s PLoS Medicine—must have been desperate. The nine-year old suffered from ataxia-telangiectasia, a childhood disease that causes degeneration of parts of the brain that control muscle movements and speech. The symptoms include slurred speech, poor balance, impaired immune function, and the appearance of red spider veins called telangiectasias in the eyes, ears or cheeks.
Jan 20, 2009 | 8
Men have more willpower than women when it comes to resisting food, a small new study suggests.
"We didn’t expect such striking differences between males and females," study co-author Nora Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tells ScientificAmerican.com. "Men were able to inhibit their desire for food . . . and women weren’t able to do so."
Scientists had 13 women and 10 men who had fasted overnight look at, smell and taste – but not dig into — goodies like pizza, burgers and cake. They then told the subjects to practice "cognitive inhibition" (read: to try to convince themselves they weren't really hungry) and measured their brain activity using positron emission tomography (PET) scanning. (PET scans measure increases in blood flow linked to brain activity.)
Jan 6, 2009 | 7
Make fun, if you must, but it turns out that love may not fade with time, after all — and leaves a lasting impression in our brains as well as our hearts, according to a recent study.
Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York scanned the brains of 10 women and seven men who had been married an average of 21 years and insisted they were still madly in love with their spouses. When the scientists showed the subjects photos of their partners, the fMRIs detected intense activity in the ventral tegmental area of their brains, a region that produces the pleasure-giving neurotransmitter dopamine. A previous study of 17 people in the early, lustful months of relationships showed similar activity in the same brain area, a core component of our motivation and reward network.
Dec 30, 2008 | 8
A new study shows that sugar may not be so sweet for the brain – and may lead to memory problems.
Researchers from four universities report in the Annals of Neurology that people who absorb glucose more slowly than those who metabolize it quickly are more forgetful and are more likely to have a faulty dentate gyrus, a pocket in the hippocampus section of the brain. The hippocampus is involved with learning and memory formation.
The findings were based on glucose testing, memory evaluations and fMRI scans of the brains of 240 healthy people ages 65 and older without dementia, and applied even in those without diabetes, which is characterized by an inability to readily convert sugar into energy.
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